Yet again, we come face-to-face with the bewildering, heart-breaking news of another mass killing in the U.S. This time, for my wife, Beryl, and me, it pierces even closer to home—3 killed, 9 wounded in Colorado Springs, our home for the past 16 years. Revulsion, grief, ache, and anger boil to the surface.
And, just days later, another horrific scene of slaughter takes place in San Bernardino, CA. We watch the horror unfold in stunned disbelief.
Coming so shortly after the bombings and killings in Paris and Mali, a world that already felt unstable and unsafe, now feels even less safe and even more bewildering.
What is going on? I feel compelled to comment, mostly on the Colorado Springs event, because it happened in my backyard. I’m intentionally bypassing the political issues of abortion, terror or gun control. There is another time and place for that conversation. I’m landing on the common thread in these stories that motivates me more than any other.
It’s the same thread I referred to three years ago in the first blog I wrote entitled Build Good Men, following the slaying of over 20 school children in Newtown, CT. I just need to say it again.
“How do we build good men?” This, radio commentator Dennis Prager says, is one of the most important questions for any society to effectively answer. I agree. It’s why for the past 20 years it has been my life calling. While we in the U.S. are grateful for the countless good men around us, we are also clearly failing in this arena in dramatic ways.
Why is it that we have to ask this question about men? Isn’t it also exceedingly important for societies to “build good women?” Absolutely, it is. But when we watch the violence and slaughter that surround us with increasing frequency, we should admit the obvious…women aren’t the problem. It’s the men.
You’ve heard me say it before…men matter. The past week reveals it once again. Don’t women matter too? Of course, they do. But women so often seem more other-centered, and live their lives with a focus on the well-being of their families, their communities and their work colleagues.
Why do men matter? Because the difference between good men and wicked men is so extreme. Men seem to cause a disproportionate impact on society, especially when they bring violence. We men have a life-impacting choice to make: will we direct our energy to bring blessing or destruction to those around us? Our answers affect the world.
Just a month ago I told a group of friends of Peregrine ministries, “We don’t know when the next act of mass-killing will take place, what state it will happen in, what weapon will be used, or what location it will take place in. But we do know one thing in advance…the perpetrator will be a man.” We had no idea how soon those factors would be answered, so close to home.
The exceptional factor of a woman being one of the shooters in San Bernardino actually emphasizes the point—she was absolutely exceptional. In fact, once the FBI discovered there was a woman involved, their public statement was that this was no longer a typical mass-shooting. Later we discovered she and her husband were likely radicalized Islamists.
Yesterday a friend asked me, Why are the killers almost always men? When we pay close attention to the violent stories that surround us throughout the world, a pattern reveals itself: When wounded women lash out, they most often hurt themselves. They direct their energy inward: suicide, prostitution, addiction, cutting, eating disorders.
When women DO kill, sadly, they often kill family. With some regularity, we read, in horror, of mothers who kill their children. To me this is a woman’s ultimate attack on her own soul—killing her own flesh and blood. The primary victim of these women is themselves as mother.
On the other hand, when wounded men lash out, they most often harm others. They direct their energy outward: rape, murder, assault, beheading, slaughter.
There are exceptions to these broad descriptions, of course. There are some women who harm others outside their family, but those examples pale in comparison to the women who harm themselves. And certainly there are men who turn inward and commit suicide. But I think we can all agree that the pattern of mass-killing, random destruction and even terror, is clearly a male-dominated phenomenon.
A few years ago a Kenyan pastor shared with me an African proverb: “The boys in the village must be initiated into manhood, or they will burn down the village…just to feel the heat.” This statement is directly relevant to what we have seen in Colorado Springs and so many other locations.
Men must be initiated; that is, they must be guided by older men into an understanding of their heart, their calling, their significance, and the truth that their life is not primarily about their own wants, lusts, biases and prejudices. If young men wander aimlessly without affirmation or guidance they will turn their strength to destruction, against others. They become older men convinced that their life is “all about me,” and unleash self-serving destructive energy to make sure the world notices. Even if they die trying.
The Colorado Springs shooter is clearly a deeply wounded man. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, while he’s a male, he isn’t a man. He lived the life of a recluse in the hills of Appalachia, then moved to Colorado to live in the isolation of a remote region of the state. One of his neighbors described the area as “a magnet for loners and dropouts.” He clearly doesn’t fit comfortably with society. When he decided to turn destructive, he directed his fury outward, killing innocent lives. I hate that he decided to do it in my town.
By contrast, Officer Garrett Swasey, one of the three victims killed by the shooter, was a heroic man. He was “initiated” as a self-disciplined Olympic athlete, a trained security officer serving the campus of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and a respected, admired elder of his church. When he received the call that others were in harm’s way, he immediately responded by driving across the city, entered the building under fire, and placed his life at mortal risk in order to protect others. This is outward-directed power on behalf of others.
The public response in Colorado Springs to a man of this nature is further evidence of how much we long for good men. Over 5000 people attended Officer Swasey’s memorial service, including hundreds of fellow officers from around the U.S. Several hundred students from UCCS respectfully lined the edge of their campus along the highway as Swasey’s funeral procession, which extended for miles, passed by. One of those students who knew Swasey, was asked what she thought of him. She responded, “He was just willing to run into the line of fire.” That’s a good man.
Every society must decide how to build good men. Because the difference in the outwardly destructive impact of self-absorbed males, and the outwardly protective impact of other-focused men is so enormous.
The cultural, theological and political issues at the heart of the disturbing random mass-killings we see are terrifically complicated. What can you do individually in response? Be a man who brings security and life to as many people as possible.
- Ask God the Father to continue to transform you into the likeness of Christ, the ultimate model of a man
- Pursue, build relationships with, and learn from older, wiser men you admire and respect
- Look for the younger men around you who are searching, wandering, looking for someone who believes in them
- Bring your presence, voice and action to bear by initiating, supporting and working for societal change that protects rather than destroys
Can you or I alone change the world? No. Can we, together, stop the local violence that stares us in the face on a regular basis? Perhaps. There are many other factors that need to come into play for that to happen. But we can start with us. Then we can influence other men in our lives. We can then touch the next generation through our mentoring and fathering.
My heart aches at the enormous pain inflicted on the world by wounded men. I so deeply long to see us doing a better job of building good men. Lord, continue your work in me.
My greatest joy in life is my family. I know, that sounds like the comment you’re supposed to make as a man and father. All I can say is I literally shake my head in wonder at the family I have: my wife Beryl; my daughter Barclay and son-in-law Vince, their four daughters, Bella, Brynn, Brooke and Blake; my son Alec, my son Conor and daughter-in-law Bonnie, their daughter Gemma and son Calvin. Every one of them is a genuine gift. Beyond that, I have a calling that I live out through Peregrine Ministries. It is to help men: Understand their identity in Christ, Embrace their role as men, and Live out their God-given calling in life. Bottom line is I’m convinced men matter and I want to help them live life on purpose.