Category: Culture

“Just One More Shooting Star”

“Just One More Shooting Star”

​The STEM school shooting in Highlands Ranch, CO is disturbing to all of us. We may differ in our convictions of what the main solutions to this scourge in our nation are, but I think we agree on at least three things:

​1. These kinds of repeated trauma ​leave an enormous heart and soul wound on our nation whether they have touched our families directly or not.

​2. We must find solutions. This must end.

​3. The solutions will ​​include reaching angry, isolated, broken men and helping them to be connected, healed and transformed.

​One of the men in a weekly teaching/discussion group I lead, called The Journey, wrote about his feelings on the shooting. One of his best friends has two kids who attend the school. Carl’s words are artistic, honest and emotional and include some implied profanity in quoting the shooter. If you prefer not to see that you can just skip it. But if you’d like to see a heart-level expression of an honestly searching man you can read it by clicking here: “Just One More Shooting Star.”

Another man in the same group agonized over the shootings 20 years ago at Columbine High School, also in the Denver suburbs. In the days after that horror he gave voice to the jarring perspective behind the distorted lies isolated young men believe when they choose to bring random violence into the lives of others. “So My Pain Can Be Heard.”

Most of us are unfamiliar with this kind of despair. Many men and women around us live with it every day. Some of them choose to end their own lives. Others choose to end as many other lives as possible along with their own. Those in the latter category are almost always males. (The STEM shootings brought an exception to this pattern in that one of the suspected shooters was a transgender woman who self-identified as a male. I wonder, did she see this kind of violent act as distorted proof of her “masculinity”?)

I believe most of us who view these horrific outbursts with some degree of honest objectivity can agree that the solutions must acknowledge a critical need to provide better care for those who struggle with emotional and mental health issues. The solutions must include the establishment and enforcement of limitations on the accessibility of weapons of mass violence for those who have no qualifications to own them.

And the solutions must direct specific, convincing, healing, and empowering messages to young men that they matter, and have a crucial place in the world. Without that, they will continue to unleash their pain on the rest of us and sadly choose to be just another shooting star.

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Ps. 40:2, 3

Honesty and Hope

Perhaps you’ve seen the recent Gillette commercial about men being the best they can be. The phrase “the best a man can get” took me back to hazy “wonder years” when I wondered when I might need to shave anything at all.

As I watched the clip, it evoked similar beneath-the-surface feelings: recognition, conviction, inspiration and commitment. So I was surprised to hear and read that not everyone had the same positive impression of the clip as I did. In fact, I saw through one source that reactions against the commercial were 4:1 versus those that saw it as positive.

Honesty and Hope
On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice

The daily drama related to the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court appointment process is thankfully over. But anger on both political sides lingers. Some are furious at his appointment; others at his interview ordeal.

I confess I share my thoughts here as if I’m standing on some very thin ice…but I’m skating ahead. Whichever side we took, or switched to, throughout the process, I wonder if we can agree on these observations:

Christine Blasey Ford was convincingly believable in her testimony. Over time and throughout the high pressure of the situation she went through, I was increasingly impressed by her calm, sincere demeanor; her patience with the invasive nature of the questioning; her honesty about details she couldn’t recall; and her emotional vulnerability at what she did remember.

Only a very few people know who it was who assaulted her at a high school party gone very wrong. But to me there is no        denying: that woman was mistreated, demeaned and probably assaulted by some man. It broke my heart for her.

Kavanaugh, too, was entirely believable, especially in his prepared statements. Like you and I would have been, he was clearly offended and hurt by the characterizations made against him by those who hardly know him—or those who only knew him 36 years ago.

I thought he had every right to express his pain and anger at the process. I wondered how I would feel if I was accused of behavior that I was convinced was not only unfair, but untrue. I got a lump in my throat when Kavanaugh spoke of the request his daughter made to “pray for the woman.”

The process is an indictment against the crude, myopic, disrespectful state of American politics we now live in. I wonder who in their right mind would want to be the next candidate, proposed by either political party, for a Supreme Court appointment. That used to be the honor of a lifetime. Now this is the kind of treatment and abuse he or she can expect from those who will reflexively oppose the appointment.

Seriously? This is how we want it to work? The current state of our politics should be an embarrassment to all of us.

The accusations against Kavanaugh, regardless of their accuracy, are actually an indictment against the morals of our own society. He’s a man who grew up in a male-permissive culture which—through countless voices from TV, movies, strutting “jocks”, fraternities, and the whispers and goading of his own peers—communicated the message, “C’mon be a man, get what you can. Take whatever you want. Your manliness, your value as a guy, is determined by how many women you get.” I know; I was there, too.

It saddens, bewilders and even angers me that a boy of 17 can be exposed to countless broken messages of entitlement by his society, then held to completely opposite expectations by the same society four decades later.

Then that man is publicly condemned, regardless of the transformation and lessons-learned that might have taken place in those decades of potential growth and change. What unbelievable hypocrisy!

I’m convinced Ford was abused by a man.

I’m convinced Kavanaugh is an imperfect, but talented man who is genuinely respected by scores of men and women who have worked alongside him throughout his career.

I’m also convinced it’s about time American culture learns how to encourage and respect real masculinity while countering the still-present voices that promote random sexual promiscuity from men.

Further, it’s stunningly hypocritical that our society urges women to assert that same random promiscuity in their own sexual lives. It’s if they are being told, “Don’t be women. Be more like broken men.” It boggles the mind.

I feel compassion toward Ford. I feel sympathy toward Kavanaugh. I feel anger toward our cultural hypocrisy and our gutter-level politics. When will we learn? What can we do in response?

How about if each of us commits to being a voice for respectful political dialogue? What if each of us commits to consistently demonstrating respect toward the opposite gender?

Given our current climate I know that may feel like walking on thin ice. I’ll go first.

American Exceptionalism: Random Male Violence, Part II

In my previous post, Random Male Violence, Part I I began to unravel the mystery of why the random violence we regularly encounter happens in the U.S. on a level unlike any other country. Our soul searching requires that we recognize that we are developing wounded males. But all countries have wounded males.

There’s another inescapable reason random mass slaughter happens within American borders so much more than anywhere else— the ease with which anyone, regardless of capabilities, mental health or training can get their hands on assault rifles—weapons of mass destruction. The solution to this issue has proven exceptionally difficult to find, but I don’t think there is any question that this is a central part of the problem.

American Exceptionalism: Random Male Violence, Part II
American Exceptionalism: Random Male Violence, Part I

American Exceptionalism: Random Male Violence, Part I

Once again we wrestle with piercing feelings of grief, bewilderment and anger. Yet again a young American male has unleashed his wrath against a vulnerable group of students. Our hearts ache, our heads shake and our minds reel. How can this keep happening? What can we do to make sure this never happens again?

We’re familiar with the spectrum of suggested causes as well as solutions—it’s a mental health issue, it’s a gun access issue, it’s a cultural issue. It’s all of those to some degree, but in my opinion it’s a horrific case of American Exceptionalism.

I love my country, but I really dislike the way that term is typically used. It implies that American culture is first and best, as if we’re all in a global competition for a mythical cultural gold medal. Having traveled to more than 60 countries over the years I’ve experienced qualities in every one of them that are admirable as well as unfortunate. Mine included.

Yes, we Americans have demonstrated an outstanding technological ability to fly humans to the moon or to instantaneously connect and communicate with others half a world away. But honesty also compels us to admit our exceptionalism in incarcerating the highest number of citizens per capita of any nation in the world.

In grief we must also admit the exceptional acts we regularly face—young males who randomly unleash deadly violence against their own kind. Even a short-list of the locations where slaughter took place over the past 19 years evokes memories and emotions that should never entirely fade: Columbine, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Las Vegas, and now Parkland. (See my previous post, Our Spirits Groan.)

Each stands out in its own uniqueness of location and horror, but they share two common characteristics: the perpetrator was male and he was an American.

Of course, other nations have violent young men, but they tend to slaughter those who are different from themselves. They go after those of another religion, ethnicity, tribe or political persuasion. In the US our violent males slaughter randomly.

Why does this happen here and not elsewhere? My opinion is that American culture produces young males who are profoundly self-absorbed and entitled. (See my previous post, Brilliant Jerks.) At the same time they are deeply uncertain of their own significance and place in a dramatically changing cultural and economic landscape. And, they often pick up the message—whether through bullying, macho posturing, gangs, or violent video games— that the solution to disagreement and conflict is often best settled through some form of violence.

I had intended to start writing this blog last weekend, but found myself gripped by both sadness and anger at the violence recently unleashed in Parkland, FL. Having decided to take a break and see a movie, I was stunned at what appeared in the very first frame: this quote from author D. H. Lawrence, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” It was all I could do to keep from gasping out loud at how horribly accurately this described exactly what I was grieving.

Man, how much I want to disagree with that statement! I know so many wonderful, connected, compassionate, life-giving men. And, Lawrence had a different, late 19th-early 20th century, American era in mind when he made that statement. But I have to also acknowledge the extent to which this quote fits today. So many young males in American culture are tough, alone, emotionless…and can so easily turn into killers.

In his book Guyland, author Michael Kimmel identified an American sub-culture of males, ages 16-26 whose key qualities are privilege, narcissism, entitlement and self-centeredness. They are convinced that they are the center of the universe, that they are the most sought out marketing demographic (unfortunately, they’re right), that they set the social rules, and that everyone else who wants to fit in, women above all others, needs to accept and adhere to those rules. As long as a male in that demographic succeeds, he’s in. If he doesn’t measure up by the group’s or his own standards, he’s out.

Some of those young males who find themselves “out,” simmer with anger and shame until they decide to resolve things in violence. Some of them grow older and never find a sense of community or significance, until the lava of hidden resentment suddenly erupts with deadly consequences. Then they become a headline.

Courage and humility require us to face the awful circumstances we repeatedly see in American culture. In the next post, American Exceptionalism, Part II, I’ll explore factors that indicate what some solutions might be.

Our Spirits Groan

We see the news updates on our phones and can hardly believe what we are seeing. We turn on the TV and shake our heads, wordlessly, stunned at the carnage we once again witness in our broken world.

A morally lost 64 year-old man has killed more 50 and wounded more than 500 attenders of an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. He’d probably never met any of them. The audio of machine gun fire, along with the video of thousands running, crouching, weeping, is almost more than our hearts and minds can handle…

Our Spirits Groan
Brilliant Jerks

Brilliant Jerks

American culture does a good job of creating, idolizing, and then rewarding, young men who are convinced of the following life principles:

  1. Life is a party. Rock on.
  2. You’re the master of your domain. You get to decide how life goes. Others are at your service.
  3. You’re special. The rules that govern others don’t apply to you. You get a pass.
  4. You’re invincible. You’re forever young. You’ll avoid the natural consequences of injury, illness and aging.
  5. It’s all about you. You’re the center of the universe. Grab it.

In 2008 Michael Kimmel wrote an extremely informative book entitled Guyland in which he defined an American sub-culture, males 16-26. These are young men who “shirk the responsibilities of adulthood and remain fixated on the trappings of boyhood, while the boys they still are struggle heroically to prove that they are real men despite all evidence to the contrary.” p. 4.

Kimmel was prophetic, but he may have under-estimated the age range of Guyland. It seems too often to apply to older men who ought to know better.

We just watched the most recent example of a self-absorbed young power-broker, 40 year-old Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanik, run into real consequences in the real world. Kalanik built one of Silicon Valley’s biggest success stories on a toxic workplace of uber-aggressive competition, sexual harassment toward women, drug abuse and a blind eye toward unethical behavior by top performers. (NY Times, Feb. 22, 2017)

To their credit, Uber’s board made a commitment to no longer hire “brilliant jerks,” in the words of Arianna Huffington. Under pressure, Kalanik resigned in order to “work on himself.”

As hard as it is to accept, a part of the maturing process that many men ignore or deny is based on a set of principles I heard at a men’s retreat two decades ago. I think they are accurate. In fact, I think they define the line between boys and men:

  1. Life is hard. You will encounter hardship, failure and loss. Better get used to the idea.
  2. You’re not in control. There are other authorities in the world (such as board members) who can, and will, exert influence and consequences in your life.
  3. You’re not special. You’re absolutely unique; there is no one on earth exactly like you. But you aren’t special. The natural, physical and moral laws that apply to everyone else apply to you, too.
  4. You’re going to die. There will be an end to your story. Do you care about the story you’re writing?
  5. Your life is not all about you. Your life is also about others. For most of us the most significant legacy we will grant to the world will not be property, possessions or finances. It will be the imprint of our life, for better or for worse, on those we care for and love.

Men, the sooner we resist and turn from over-indulged and self-absorbed versions of principles such as independence, freedom and success, so valued by our culture, the sooner we will bring genuine, mature, other-centered, masculine benefit and blessing to others.

It just might be time to grow a pair.

Just Passing Through

Here’s a simple yet profound reminder to keep our perspective straight. It’s taken from a devotional by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, who claims Jesus as Messiah.

“If you travel to different nations, you have to convert the currency of the place you’re leaving into the currency of your destination. Now what if you were going to a place from which you would never return? What would you do? Convert everything you had into the currency of your destination because anything not converted would be lost – right?

Just Passing Through
Bias From the Bottom

Bias From the Bottom

Author Richard Rohr makes an intriguing observation about the uniqueness of biblical authors versus most authors:

“The vast majority of people throughout history has been poor, disabled, or oppressed in some way (i.e., “on the bottom”) and would have experienced history in terms of a need for change. The people who wrote the books and controlled the social institutions, however, have almost always been the comfortable people on the top. Much of history has been recorded from the side of the winners, except for the unique revelation of the Bible, which is an alternative history from the bottom: from the side of the enslaved, the dominated, the oppressed, and the poor, culminating in the scapegoat figure of Jesus himself.

We see in the Gospels that it’s those on the bottom who tend to follow Jesus: the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outsiders, and the foreigners. It is demonstrably those on the inside and the top who crucify him: elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, scribes, and Roman occupiers. Shouldn’t that tell us something really important about perspective? Every viewpoint is a view from a point, and we need to critique our own perspective if we are to see and follow the truth all the way through.” [Italics and bold are mine]

How might this insightful point lead you and me to evaluate our point of view and perspective? Do we automatically swing to familiar assumptions, especially about others, or do we pause to think through how issues look and feel from the “other side”?

Today’s News Confirms: Men Matter, They Just Don’t Think So

In one breakfast of scanning the newspaper this week I came across these stories:

1. The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker wrote a moving editorial regarding Charleston church murderer Dylann Roof. He’s the self-professed white supremacist who slaughtered 9 African Americans while attending a Bible study at their church. (Just typing those words makes me both sick and angry.)

Roof may want the public to believe his insistence that he wanted to start a race war, or that he has justified grievances against blacks he supposes are the cause of his life of misery and social rejection.

Parker eloquently lifts the veil to the real truth of what drove him to this awful act:

Today’s News Confirms: Men Matter, They Just Don’t Think So