Monday, February 11, 2013

The Immorality of Narcissism: Christopher Dorner

I've been tracking this story since before we knew Christopher Dorner was the suspected killer; the first victim, Monica Quan (with her fiance Keith Lawrence), was the daughter of a fellow high-school student and our alumni community was horrified by the tremendous loss. It has only become more painful as Dorner's 'manifesto' has come out and made clear that he was targeting Randal Quan by killing his daughter. I don't want to focus on Dorner except as an exemplar of horrific morality: the morality of self-exaltation. The first example I see is from Genesis 4:23-24.
Lamech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, listen to my voice, you wives of Lamech, give heed to my speech, for I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me; if Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold."
This Lamech (there are several in the Bible) has exalted himself above everyone else: a man wounded him, so he killed the man; a boy hit him, so he killed the boy and he feels justified in doing it because he is of more value than anyone else.

Narcissism is our natural state; we are born narcissists and must learn that our wants and needs are not the only wants and needs. People often talk about babies as born "good" but I don't believe that-- babies are born innocent, not "good." We must be taught what "goodness" is and we must be willing to let go of some of our complete self-absorption in order to become "good."

This immediately raises the question: who is the arbiter of "good"? Or "just" or "fair" or "right"? This murderer, like Lamech, believes that he was right to murder the daughter (and her fiance) of a man who disappointed him and let him down. He sees himself as a victim in all this. I don't believe any thinking American can agree with Dorner that it's appropriate to murder the child of a man who he blames for losing his job with the LAPD because, if it is justified for him to take vengeance against an innocent party because she is related to someone he hates, then none of us are safe from such summary judgments, nor are our children.

Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" I remember the first time I read that scripture and took it personally. I was in my early 20s and I rejected it completely: "not MY heart!" It took the better part of two decades to recognize the truth God speaks in that passage: our hearts are deceitful and self-serving, Dorner's heart is deceitful and self-serving-- he has habitually viewed the world as unfair to him and thus whatever he does to get back at the world is fair and killing the child of the man he blames for losing his job is right.

So, if we cannot trust our own hearts to guide us in what is right and wrong, what can we trust? What higher authority is there, beyond our hearts?

I've often heard people speak disparagingly of God's mandate-- "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20)-- as brutal and barbaric but, in the light of Lamech's narcissism, it is a law of balance: no, you may not kill a man for injuring you, you may not kill a boy for hitting you, you may not murder the daughter of the man who disappointed you in an administration hearing. And by God's law, Dorner would die for committing murder. I hope he does. I hope he meets his Maker, having repented of his self-absorption and all his sins; I don't wish he goes to hell, although he may well. It strikes me as ironic that our society is so reluctant to judge criminals, that we're so quick to listen to excuses ("bad childhood," "abuse," "psychological damage") and act like we have more mercy than God (!!) but, at the same time, we're so fast to tell people to go to hell. Better we should judge rightly here and allow God to determine the ultimate disposition of the soul.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mormons To Christians To Jews

This is an update on a blog I wrote in March, 2009, about why John McCain became, by default, the Republican candidate for President rather than the very impressive Mitt Romney. Some folks are still angry with Mike Huckabee, an evangelical Christian, for asking (disingenuous? I really don’t know, perhaps he was genuinely ignorant) questions about what Mormons believe.

Let me say at the outset, I don't vote based on theology and I'd be surprised if many people do. At the same time, if Mitt Romney becomes the Republican candidate in 2012, there will be a huge media storm about the LDS church and my opinion is that Mormon candidates for office would be better served by being upfront about the differences rather than pretending they don't exist.

For a lot of people, this is a ridiculous debate: “Of course Mormons are Christians! They believe in Jesus!”

But for people who pay attention to theology it’s not about the word “Jesus” or even believing that a person lived and died and rose again about 2,000 years ago – it’s about who you think that person was and what you think he did. So the meaning of the word is the critical part, not the word itself.

Traditional Christianity has embraced and taught from the beginning that God is a Triune Being: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and the Three together comprise God. This is one of the places that Christianity separates from its Jewish roots: Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD” and understands it to mean the Triune God but Jews focus on “one” and say, “No, God can’t be a Trinity.” Obviously, as a Christian, I believe the two can be reconciled – but that discussion isn’t the topic of this post.

The LDS don’t believe in the Trinity; they don’t believe in eternal unchanging God; the Mormons believe that God was once a man and that a perfectly realized Mormon man has the potential to become god in his own future creation. This is radically different from either the Christian or Jewish view of God’s eternal and unchanging nature, “Who Was and Is and Is To Come.”

Normative (“orthodox” with a little “o”) Christianity believes that Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity, that He has been God and with God from eternity past to eternity future, always and forever. John says it beautifully in the first chapter of his gospel:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men." (John 1:1-4)

Obviously that is not the Jewish view of Jesus or God and, fair enough, they’re not Christians, of course they don’t believe what Christianity teaches. But it’s not the Mormon view, either. According to LDS theology, Jesus and Lucifer are both spirit sons of God the father (who was once a man), and each came up with a plan to reconcile fallen humanity with God, and God preferred the plan of his son Jesus over the plan of his son Lucifer, who took offense.

Now I don’t know much about what Mormons believe happened to Lucifer, after God rejected his plan, and it’s not relevant to my point. The fact that Mormon theology believes Jesus and Lucifer are equal beings prior to the incarnation makes the Mormon Jesus very, very different from the normative Christian Jesus. The fact that the Mormon Jesus wasn’t with God from the beginning makes him very, very different from the normative Christian Jesus.

Details regarding the conception of Jesus, the scope of the forgiveness Jesus achieved on the cross, and the Person of the Holy Spirit all show a significant difference between Mormon beliefs and orthodox Christian beliefs.

Simply using the name “Jesus” while pointing to the historical figure and saying, “we believe in THAT guy,” doesn’t mean we believe the same things about “that guy.” Christianity believes that Jesus is Creator and Lucifer is part of the created order; they have never been equal or equivalent beings. In and of itself, the different understandings of God and Jesus, who they are, their history and their relationship, are sufficient to mark a vast gulf between the two religions.

My analogy is that the Mormon faith is to Christianity as Christianity is to Judaism. Christians embrace the Hebrew scriptures (although, to be fair, many Christians are greatly ignorant of the Hebrew scriptures and some suffer confusion about the very nature of the “old testament God” – but those are personal limitations and not reflected by normative Christian theology) and then add the new testament, the gospels and epistles. Likewise the Mormons embrace the Christian bible (old and new testament) and add another gospel and additional books that form specific Mormon theology. I am told by Mormon friends that they are discouraged from reading the Bible, that it is considered inferior to the LDS scriptures. Joseph Smith was told by his angelic source that none of the churches were rightly following Jesus and he needed to form a new one. So he did.

I think the LDS and Mitt Romney in particular would be better served to acknowledge that they are Mormon and, while the religion has similarities with normative Christianity, it is significantly different. In my opinion Christians shouldn’t try to pass themselves off as Jews and Mormons shouldn’t try to pass themselves off as Christians, at least not as unqualified Christians – it looks deceptive to people who know something about the two theologies.

It’s a truth-in-advertising, accuracy-in-labeling question. And inadvertent misrepresentation could explode the candidacy of a Mormon.

Now, does any of this theology have any bearing on the suitability of Mitt Romney to be President? No, of course not. We're not voting for "Theologian in Chief," we're voting for "Commander in Chief." Would Romney's LDS beliefs have any bearing on his ability to do a good job as President? No (and, arguably, they could have a positive bearing: Mormon males are under a lot of pressure to live excellent and exemplary lives; there is no "cheap grace" in LDS theology). Would religious holidays in the White House take on a different flavor? Sure.

So what? This is the United States of America and we very purposefully chose not to establish a state religion. One of the consequences of that (wise) decision is that we've had Presidents from a variety of Christian traditions. And, in the larger sense, being Mormon certainly grows up out of the Christian tradition even while it is not traditional Christianity.

Are there religions which would prevent me from voting for a candidate? Yes, if the religion embraced a different set of values. I don't know that I could vote for a Muslim because the religion is inherently political; Islam doesn't see a separation between mosque and state. I wouldn't vote for a satanist. Would I vote for an atheist? If their values were solid and I believed they were the best person for the job, yes. If Mitt Romney is the conservative nominee most likely to win the general election, he should be the candidate.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Stone the Builders Rejected

Yet Another in the Collection of the Obvious which Lynn Has Heretofore Missed :\

Psalm 118:22-23 says, "The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD'S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes." This scripture is understood to be about the Messiah (at least by Christians!) and Jesus quotes it in reference to Himself (Matthew 21, Mark 12, Luke 20) in the culmination of a confrontation with the chief priests and elders in the temple, about His authority to teach.

I've always thought of dressed stones and wondered why one suitable to be the cornerstone would be reject but as I read the verse today it struck me that a stone which is rejected is a stone which refuses to be any shape but its own.

This is most assuredly the case when it comes to Jesus: the Jewish people in the first century were (very understandably) looking for the Messiah to come as a conquering king to throw off the yoke of Rome - most of the previous 600 years were spent as a conquered or vassal state: first to Babylon then the Medes & Persians, then the Greeks and now the Romans. And there are lots of Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures which reference Him as conquering king; these have not yet been fulfilled. Instead Jesus came as the Lamb of God, the suffering servant, God in human flesh paying for human sin as the passover lamb, in order that death will no longer have authority over those who come into agreement with Him.

So, right there, you have 'builders' with an idea of the shape of the stone for which they are looking, an opinion about what shape the chief cornerstone should be. And, in the natural, the builders and the architect are in agreement about the dimensions of the cornerstone. But in the spiritual realm, the Architect is God and He is the one Who says, "This is the chief cornerstone," and thereby establishes the shape of the entire building. And we builders, straddling the natural and the spiritual, look at this entirely self-possessed cornerstone and cry, "but I can't DO anything with that!" That Stone is entirely Itself and It does not change shape to accommodate anyone; instead we must come into agreement with the Stone.

This makes me think of Joshua 5:13-15, this powerful and mysterious interaction before the battle of Jericho: Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you for us or for our adversaries?" He said, "No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, "What has my lord to say to his servant?" The captain of the LORD'S host said to Joshua, "Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.

Personally, I read this as a Christophany - an appearance of pre-incarnate Jesus in scripture - because an angel of God will not receive worship (in both Revelation 19 and 22 John tells of falling at the feet of a glorious being and he is told, "See that you do it not! I am your fellow servant - worship God!") and this Person not only receives worship, He commands it ("take off your sandals; this is holy ground").

So, if this is Jesus appearing to Joshua, why in the world doesn't He say, "of course I'm on your side! You are my chosen people!" ???

Because it is not for this Being, commanding the army of the LORD, to be on the side of Joshua - rather it is for Joshua to be on the side of the LORD. Likewise, it is not for the stone to accommodate itself to the builders but rather for the builders to accept the Stone provided by the divine Architect.

I wrote a song we use sometimes at church which says, "Help me line up with You, line up with You, line up with You, my Lord--" and that's my ongoing prayer, as God is doing the work of shaping me to fit His purposes and I resist the temptation to try and shape Him to fit my purposes!

God is big and unpredictable (to us, at least - Aslan is not a tame lion!); we know He is good and we know something about where He is taking us but the path is often circuitous - it's certainly not the way we would go, left to our own devices. And so we start questioning, doubting - maybe God hasn't taken everything into consideration? Maybe there's something we know which He hasn't noticed yet? (!! - I know it sounds silly, but how often do we pray as if we were instructing God on the shape of our lives? "Lord, I'm having this problem with XYZ..." "Really? Wow, Lynn, somehow I'd missed that--") And it's not a big step from there to thinking we have vending-machine god or portable god that fits in our pockets. We persist in trying to downsize God because, face it, He's too big for us to see in His entirety. I'm sure it's awesome and amazing to travel in the space shuttle or live in the space station, to look out the window and see the earth and the moon - but if you really want the whole picture, you have to leave the station or do an extra-vehicular activity. And even then, you're seeing through the limitations of your helmet....

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Fabulous Doctor Glyer

Have I told you lately about how fabulous Dr Glyer is? My pal, Diana, brilliant scholar, woman of God, delightful and entertaining human being.

Have I mentioned that her award-winning book, The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, is now available in paperback? Or that there's now a Wikipedia page on her?
Diana Glyer

Then I've been remiss. She also has a book out on spiritual formation, Clay in the Potter's Hands, and it is now available from Amazon in both paper and Kindle formats. Other eBook formats are available from Smashwords.

This post updated Fall 2011.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Transitions and Ambivalence

This year I've been reading the history books of the Bible interspersed with the prophets who lived and prophesied at the same time. One of the things that leapt out this reading, especially in the context of the Northern Kingdom, were violent transitions. How grateful I am that our system of government allows for a smooth transition of power from one presidency to another! We are not a coup-friendly nation, and I am profoundly thankful for that.

Obama wasn't my candidate. McCain wasn't either, but he had my vote because his ideology and values are closer to my own and I believed he would do a better job of leading this nation. But now Barack Obama is my president (elect) and while there is disappointment and concern. I am also intensely moved by the significance of his election.

It struck me most profoundly when I heard a radio reporter mention watching Jesse Jackson weeping on television (as a TV-free zone I rely on radio for real-time descriptions of events). It's powerful for me that we have elected a self-identified black man to the highest office in the land - but I'm a middle-aged white woman who grew up in a racially diverse part of Los Angeles and the truth is, I have no idea what full-on racial prejudice feels like.

So hearing this reporter describe with a sense of awe that Jesse Jackson wept continually, wept like a young child, I realized how extraordinary this election is for the black community-- something they felt was out of their reach as a race has been grasped resoundingly, and not only by blacks but by all races. The Presidency is not a referendum on race but Obama's win required the support of myriads of white voters - and I hope that fact serves as a balm to the weary and torn souls who've been encouraged to view all of life through the lens of racism.

I pray that Obama will be a great and wise President; I pray that he is not a man of the Chicago machine but proves to be his own man and a man with a true heart for the Lord.

The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it
like a watercourse wherever He pleases.

Proverbs 21:1

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Redistribution of Peanut Butter Sandwiches...

Much has been made lately of Barack Obama's "spread the wealth around" philosophy, taking from Joe-the-plumber to give to the guys "behind him," to give them an equal chance to succeed as well as Joe has. But don't they already have an equal chance? Aren't the variables found in our individual gifts, abilities, vision, and work ethic? Or do we aspire to realize the nightmare of Kirk Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron short story? yikes--

When I indulge my indolent self, I accomplish much less than when I deliver a pep-talk to my go-getter self-- it's kind of the "two dogs at war within me" scenario.*

Being a television-free zone, I haven't been over-exposed to television ads or last night's Obama infomercial (caveat emptor: there is no money-back guarantee on this purchase and no 'do-over.' Bearing that in mind I've been fascinated by Obama's strong encouragement that people vote early instead of waiting until Election Day; it sounds so much like, "Vote for me now before you learn something that might change your mind--") but I've heard several references to Obama sharing his peanut butter and jelly sandwich in elementary school and his apparent comparison of that experience with his desire to redistribute wealth or, in his own words, "spread the wealth around."

I don't think so.

In fact, children sharing and trading lunches and sandwiches in elementary school is much more a 'free market' economy than a government redistribution economy. Remember? How often could you trade your liverwurst sandwich to another kid? I liked liverwurst but even I didn't want someone else's liverwurst sandwich; I liked the way my mom made them.

What Obama wants is for the teacher to collect all the lunches, pick out her favorite things, and then hand them back out the way she sees fit, so that it's 'fair' according to her own agenda. Guess who is 'the teacher' in Obama's left-leaning utopia?

But what if she cuts everything into pieces and divides it up, passes it back? She's still going to 'take her cut' of the pieces. In a classroom of 40 students (which was routine for my generation), she'd cut everything up into 45 pieces and she'd keep those extra 5 pieces. Maybe she'd cut it up in to 50 pieces and keep 10% and, as in the first scenario, some of those goodies are never going to be 'redistributed' back down to the classroom.

That nice piece of chocolate cake? Gone.

Now, for the kid whose mother is a drunk and who routinely gets margarine sandwiches, this is hopeful. But in your standard schoolyard economy, some kids are going to notice that he rarely gets a decent lunch and share - at least, that's what we did in the early 60s and I can't believe that my generation, the self-obsessed generation, was more inherently generous than the generations which follow.

*A man observed there were two dogs at war within him: one that does good and the other does evil. When asked which dog wins, he replied: "The one I feed the most."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Aslan is not a stuffed Lion

Like so many fans of the Inklings and mythopoeia, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, fantasy and yes, even Harry Potter, I went to see the new Narnia movie Prince Caspian.

What a disappointment.

I went with my son & daughter-in-law and grandkids; I wore my C.S. Lewis Centenary Celebration t-shirt, the one with Nancy-Lou Patterson's great illustration of Bacchus' wild girls, from the spectacular Mythopoeic conference in Wheaton in 1998.

Spoilers follow, so if you don't know the book and you wish to remain in blissful ignorance until you've seen the film, cease and desist reading now.

The Peter Jacksonification of Narnia:

It's not fair to blame Peter Jackson, horror-film director made rich and famous by turning Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings into an action-driven horror-fest in place of a character-driven epic of high fantasy. Someone, somewhere, must have thought, "ah, these films are popular because of the really impressive battle sequences!" and Walden Media, God bless their pointed little heads, thought, "ah, we must do really impressive battle sequences in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - we can even film in New Zealand!"

I was disappointed in the first film, particularly in the characterization of Peter as whiny and bossy and troubled. This invented characterization has grown larger and more putrid in Prince Caspian, which starts with him fighting *yet again* with school mates. Where is High King Peter, where is illustration of the point, repeated over and over again by Lewis, that the children start to reacquire the maturity and skills they developed in their first stay in Narnia?

Now, fine, if a person thinks there's an interesting psychological story, to look at the impact of the 'Kings & Queens grown up in Narnia, back to childhood in England' experience, tell that story independently - but it's not the story Lewis told -- it's not Prince Caspian. These are children's books, children's magical fantasy stories, rich with spiritual meaning and interesting questions. The Walden Media people ignore most of the interesting questions and contort the spiritual content.

My son's lovely wife never read the Narnia books in childhood so she came to the film without expectations to be dashed; she came away very confused. "You know at the end, when Aslan says Peter and Susan won't be returning to Narnia because they learned the lessons they were supposed to learn? What did they learn?" Good question. Perhaps they were meant to learn you don't rely on your own understanding but you follow Aslan even when it doesn't appear to make sense - in which case, they didn't learn it.

Every question she had was related to the inventions of the filmmakers: "why did they attack the castle? Why did Caspian try to attack the Old Narnians? Why didn't Peter kill Miraz if it was a challenge to the death? What was Lucy doing? Why did she leave and ride through the forest?"

Yes-- most egregious of all. Aslan, who is not a tame lion, turns out to be a stuffed lion; Lucy has to return to the place she last saw him in order to fetch him.

Give me a break!

So, to recap the confusion: these are children's books so the battles can't have any blood (swords drawn out without gore) BUT they're Peter Jacksonified so we need more battles; these are books written by a man who enjoyed a smoke and a pint BUT that would confuse American evangelicals (apparently believed to be incapable of handling the rich, full humanity of Clive Staples Lewis) so we'll delete all the festivities with Bacchus and Pan and the wild girls (--so much for my t-shirt--); for entirely unclear reasons we change the two conniving Telmarine lords into a conniving lord and a reluctant victim lord and instead of having them initiate the accusation of treachery during the challenge when Peter steps back to allow Miraz to regain his feet, the filmmakers invent a sequence where High King Peter refuses to kill his opponent during a 'fight-to-the-death' challenge, passes the task off to Caspian (who also declines, showing himself weak), and thus make for a very clumsy accusation of treachery (using one of Susan's arrows, of all things).