Month: June 2016

So says a colleague today while discussing the latest atrocity in Istanbul. I have gathered today for further reflection two unrelated ISIS stories–even as they lose ground in Iraq and Syria, they manage to stay in the news.

First off, our prayers are offered for the victims and loved ones who were affected by the Istanbul airport bombings. The death toll has apparently reached 42 with hundreds injured. You can read the latest at BBC.

Also in the news, an escaped ISIS sex slave testified before Congress about her plight and that of many others. CNN reports that Nadia Murad, a member of the Yaziri ethnic minority in Iraq, appeared before congressmen to describe what is going on:

Speaking about the Middle East’s Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities, she warned that “if they are not protected they will be wiped out.”

Yazidis are ethnically Kurdish members of an ancient religion who live mostly in Iraq.

Murad detailed how she and thousands of Yazidi women and girls were enslaved and raped by their ISIS captors. She recounted how six of her brothers and her mother were executed by ISIS in a single day.

…”I was freed, but I do not (have) the feeling of the freedom because those who have committed these crimes have not been held accountable,” she said.

A UN report released last week estimated that ISIS holds about 3,500 slaves and that the terror group continues to subject women and children to sexual violence, particularly in the form of sexual slavery. The report said ISIS’ actions “may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”

This Reuters artice referenced the UN report in January 2016.

This Twitter hashtag surged in popularity last month, inspired by an ugly outpouring of rage by Muslims on Christians that took place in May in the Egyptian village of Karma. Rumors of an affair by a Christian man with a Muslim woman spawned a mob that burned and looted seven homes and dragged a naked 70 year old woman through the streets.

You can read more at The Associated Press.

Once again we pray for our beleaguered and persecuted brethren overseas.

Eight suicide bombers launched two waves of attacks on the Christian town of Al Qaa in northeastern Lebanon on Monday, killing at least five people and raising fears that violence from the civil war in neighboring Syria will further destabilize Lebanon, its fragile neighbor.

Read it all: New York Times.

Al Jazeera Reports that the second attack took place while people were gathering for the funeral preparations following the first bombing. Two men on a motorcycle tossed a grenade at the crowd and then detonated their vests.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has been described as “the last station on the train to hell” (Payson, The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family, (2002)). Some would go further: It is hell. Anyone who has dealt with a relative or friend afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is aware of the damage done by these malignant people upon those around them. Very rarely do they have insight or any willingness to change.

The features of narcissistic Personality Disorder, according to the most recent
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) include the following:

Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by:
Impairments in self functioning (a or b):

Identity: Excessive reference to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation; exaggerated self-appraisal may be inflated or deflated, or vacillate between extremes; emotional regulation mirrors fluctuations in self-esteem.

Self-direction: Goal-setting is based on gaining approval from others; personal standards are unreasonably high in order to see oneself as exceptional, or too low based on a sense of entitlement; often unaware of own motivations.


Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):

Empathy: Impaired ability to recognize or identify with the

feelings and needs of others; excessively attuned to reactions of others, but only if perceived as relevant to self; over- or underestimate of own effect on others.

Intimacy: Relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation; mutuality constrained by little genuine interest in others‟ experiences and predominance of a need for personal gain

Pathological personality traits in the following domain: 1. Antagonism, characterized by:

a. Grandiosity: Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert;

self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others.

b. Attention seeking: Excessive attempts to attract and be the focus of the attention of others; admiration seeking.

C. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual‟s personality trait expression are relatively stable across time and consistent across situations.

The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual‟s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment.

The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not solely due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., severe head trauma).

The central defect of narcissism is not putting oneself first, though this is a prominent feature of the disorder. The central defect is rather the wholesale embrace of a lie–the embrace and promotion of the “false self”, a distorted image which is protected ruthlessly. It should be noted, that the lie is first and foremost directed to oneself. The embrace of the lie is also at the root of the ill promulgated by narcissists.

A view from the inside can be found in this “letter from a narcissist’s true self” (available from an online forum at Psych Forums):

You can never get through to my true self because the lies I tell are nearly impenetrable. I have lied so often and for so long that I myself have come to believe my own lies. I am a walking lie. That is the truth.

Psychiatrist and famed author M. Scott Peck shocked many when he wrote, “I now know that Satan is real. I have met it.” He dealt with a subset of people with NPD in his book People of the Lie, in which he proposed that a certain subcategory of them be termed “evil”. He has related that one can define “evil” as “live” spelled backwards–“evil” is the opposite of “live”, or it is that which kills life.

Among the many tales in this book he recounted how a set of parents gave the grieving brother of a suicide victim a grisly present one Christmas–the very gun used in the suicide. They either didn’t care how this would affect him, or wanted to send him a message. For the most part in Peck’s encounters, evil people are of the banal sort, harming only those around them. They may appear normal, often even poised and highly successful. They go to church (and are often leaders there). But they can devastate the lives of those who are around them.

Whereas “God is love”, the malignant narcissist offers only a pretense of love. As Peck says:

Those who are evil are masters of disguise; they are not apt to wittingly disclose their true colors–either to others or to themselves. (p 104)
Because they are such experts at disguise, it is seldom possible to pinpoint the maliciousness of the evil. The disguise is usually impenetrable. (p 76).
Naturally, since it is designed to hide its opposite, the pretense chosen by the evil is most commonly the pretense of love. (p 106)

Victims of narcissism aren’t the only ones to taste Hell. The pain comes around to the person with NPD as well. Narcissism is a double edged sword. The lie is first directed at oneself. It is rare to hear a narcissist complain, but I did run across this post, from a self aware person with NPD:

Here is a comment from the other side. I have narcissistic personality disorder and have lost just about everything important. My adult children have distanced themselves. My wife has filed for divorce. Yes, I have screwed up just about everything. Fortunately, only 1% of the population has NPD. I wish I didn’t.
(From “Lament of a Lonely Narcissist” in a Psychology Today blog by Randi Kruger).

Among the pictures of Hell that have been proffered, one that intrigues me comes from Tim Keller:
We know how selfishness and self-absorption leads to piercing bitterness, nauseating envy, paralyzing anxiety, paranoid thoughts, and the mental denials and distortions that accompany them. Now ask the question” “What if when we die we don’t end, but spiritually our life extends on into eternity?”
Hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever
. (Keller, Reason to Believe p.79)

May God free us from such a trajectory. Let us shun evil and embrace life. As Jesus taught: “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly”.

  1. Our prayers for comfort go to all the families and friends of the 50+ people killed in the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.  According to news reports, the gunman, Omar Mateen, pledged allegiance to ISIS in a 9-1-1 phone call.  This event now marks the largest death toll from a shooting spree in U.S. history.  You can read more coverage of this terrible tragedy in several news outlets, including, for example, CNN:
  2. In a separate and unrelated incident, Christina Grimmie, a former “The Voice” contestant, was signing autographs for fans after a performance in Orlando when a man walked up to her and fatally shot her. An article at The Gospel Herald reports that she was a committed Christian:
    Grimmie achieved much interest in her version of the song “In Christ Alone,” and she had indicated the Bible is her favorite book. She had described herself as a “full-on Christian who loves Jesus.” Her lyrics reflected her morals and beliefs, and how she lived her life. In her public profiles, she stated Jesus was her “Lord and Savior,” and that she sung for Him.  
    We applaud her witness and pray for those who will miss her.

For a limited time, you may listen free to a veritable feast of gorgeous liturgical music, performed in an appropriate setting.  Those who follow my postings closely will know that I am a fan of the webcasts of Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue. They are in the midst of their “2016 Orchestral and Organ Mass Series featuring the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys and Saint Thomas Chamber Orchestra”. Already on demand are webcasts of recent services featuring the Mass in C, op. 169 by Josef Rhineburger, and the Mass in G major by Franz Schubert. This coming Sunday, June 6, will feature the Missa Solennelle by Louis Vierne.

These webcasts can be found at:

A small but significant semantic victory on the religious freedom front has been won by a senator from Oklahoma. In recent years, a quiet effort has been made to substitute the phrase (and concept) “freedom of worship” in place of the more traditional “freedom of religion.” One place where this change has emerged in the past few years is on the civic test materials of the US Citizen and Immigration Services.

As reported last year in the Christian Post, Senator Lankford of Oklahoma, a former youth pastor, has taken issue with this:

“Not only is ‘freedom of worship’ inconsistent with the text of the Amendment proposed 226 years ago today, saying that ‘freedom of worship’ is more inclusive that ‘freedom of religion’ flies in the face of the pillar upon which our entire nation was founded,” Lankford contended. “Our forefathers came to America to have freedom of religion, not simply freedom of worship. So valued, they made the free exercise of religion our first freedom.”

Lankford’s letter also asserts that “freedom of religion” is the ability for a person to live out their beliefs in every aspect of life.

“The freedom of religion is much more than just the freedom of worship. Worship confines you to a location,” the senator explained. “Freedom of religion is the right to exercise your religious beliefs — it is the ability for Americans to live out their faith or to choose to have no faith.”


His efforts appear to have worked. The Agency and its parent, the Department of Homeland Security, have recently agreed to change the wording of their materials.

This may prove a minor and symbolic change only, but we applaud it, as we do all efforts of Christians with convictions to stand against the tide. Our appreciation goes to Mr. Lankford.

I was reading about the Hittites, when I ran across something interesting, to which I’ll return in a moment.

The Hittites are a people mentioned numerous times in Genesis and other books of the Old Testament.  In 1906 the ruins of the Hittite empire were discovered by German cuneiform expert Hugo Winckler. He uncovered temples, a fortified citadel, and numerous sculptures. He also found a library:

“In ruined storage chambers, very likely royal archives, that appeared to have been destroyed by a great fire, he found thousands of hardened clay tablets. Most were in an unknown language, which was later shown to be Hittite. A few, in Akkadian, included a cuneiform version of a peace treaty concluded between the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II and the Hittite king Hattusilis, which Winckler translated.” (See Encyclopedia Britannica).

Prior to this discovery, as Christians are fond of pointing out, numerous higher critics viewed the Canaanite Hittites as mythical at best, and the Bible as untrustworthy on this point.  The spade silenced these critics.  As an early example, we have an article written by the Egyptologist Melvin Kyle in 1920.

The Hittites:
Then grave doubts in the past have been raised concerning the Hittites. Occasionally it has been boldly said that “no such people ever existed” (compare Newman, Hebrew Monarchy, 184-85; Budge, Hist of Egypt, IV , 136). But in addition to the treaty of Rameses II with the “Kheta,” long generally believed to have been the Hittites (RP, 2nd series, IV, 25-32), and the references to the “Hatti” in the Tell el-Amarna Letters, also thought to be the same people, we now have Winckler’s great discovery of the Hittite capital at Boghaz-Koi, and the Hittite copy of the treaty with Rameses II in the cuneiform script. The Hittites are seen to be a great nation, a third with Egypt and Babylonia (OLZ, December 15, 1906).

However, in recent years apparently there was some some blowback in the blogosphere, against the idea that skeptical scholars ever denied the existence of the biblical Hittites.  An essay on the website called “Christian origins” states, Thus, there is a legend here. It is the legend about “the liberal critics,”  A blogger with the title “DagoodS” stated rather provocatively in 2009 that Christian apologists are liars.  Why? Well, apparently because, among other complaints, “I heard the statement how skeptics once claimed Hittites didn’t exist, but it turns out they did. Not true—no skeptic said this.” (The inflammatory blogpost is here.)

A Roman Catholic apologist named Dave Armstrong decided to call the bluff on that particular point, with several examples.  For an interesting read:

Spring: Birds chirp. Warmth and the faint aroma of blossoms begin to fill the air (causing not a few to begin sneezing). And in nearly every community, the social buzz turns to the end of another school year, and to life transitions. Gowned students parade proudly before their adoring parents and other well-wishers, and receive their diplomas (or degrees). Some students strut, some wave, some beam, and some try to maintain a semblance of dignity. In most cases, the band or orchestra plays Edward Elgar’s aptly named theme, “Pomp and Circumstance.”

I had a recent taste of this sort of thing myself, as I was honored to be inducted as a Fellow in my professional society. I travelled to the annual convocation, at which I and others like me donned robes and had our new status conferred upon us by the president of the College. Stately classical music, a robed assembly, presence of symbolic objects (such as the Mace of the College), and speeches extolling the high and noble virtues of our profession, all marked the solemnity of the occasion.

When Christians speak of the Ascension of Jesus Christ, we have in mind this kind of thing. The graduating students we honor each spring are ascending to a new academic status. We sometimes even use this kind of language directly when refer to students as “rising 9th graders”, meaning that they are in transition from 8th to 9th grade. “Rising 9th graders” aren’t pupils who are growing taller, nor do we intend to be referring to a bunch of levitating students.

Similarly when Jesus ascended he didn’t merely levitate into the air. He ascended from one status to another. You could say that he graduated. But his ascension is even a bit more than a mere graduation or career transition. The word “Ascension” also carries a connotation of obtaining the privilege and right to a throne or seat of power. For all of the solemnity with which we mark the ascension of a student to the status of graduate, or a Diplomate to the status of a Fellow, these are but dim shadows of the splendor and glory of Christ’s Ascension. Jesus didn’t earn an earthly diploma, or even a PhD. He became something vastly more important than any earthly office or title can convey.

In Christian theology the great feast of Ascension celebrates the fact that when Jesus last addressed his followers on earth it was as the rising King of Glory. Christ left us in order to pass into the invisible realm of God, there to attend his coronation. In the presence of God he is enthroned now as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Christians believe that this event was glimpsed by the prophet Daniel:

I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.

And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14, from Holy Bible, King James Version).

Currently, the reality (mostly invisible to us) is that Jesus has graduated earth and ascended to his throne, where he reigns in glory. He reigns now–not just in some distant future era. The illusion we have now, that there is no such King, or that we are perfectly sovereign over our own lives, will someday evaporate. The curtain will part for us as it did for the martyr Stephen just before he was executed:

“But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”(Holy Bible).

P.S. We would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to give our heartfelt best wishes to all of those who are graduating from school or college. May God illuminate your paths.