American Exceptionalism: Random Male Violence, Part II

Posted by on Feb 24, 2018 in Anger, Character, Community, Courage, Culture, Fear, Hope, Noble Journey, Venus and Vegas | 9 comments

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.

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American Exceptionalism: Random Male Violence, Part I

Posted by on Feb 24, 2018 in Anger, Character, Community, Courage, Culture, Hope, Redemption, Venus and Vegas | 3 comments

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 option 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.

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And the Greatest of These…is Shame.

Posted by on Mar 30, 2015 in Anger, Character, Community, Fear, Significance, Transformation | 5 comments

Most people who know much about men, know that anger is a frequent trait that we struggle with. It seems to be a reflexive emotion whenever we encounter frustration or disappointment. It comes out in road rage, kicking the cat, yelling at the kids, or abusing wives. It’s awful and it’s destructive. A second emotion men struggle with is fear. In fact, fear is often the actual emotion lurking beneath the surface in men, that presents itself outwardly as anger. Men don’t know it, or don’t want to admit it, but what we are often angry about is fear of failure. Humans are designed to long for the fulfillment of two profound inner needs: Relationship/Intimacy and Respect/Impact. While we all line up on a sliding scale in our thirst for these two, most men long first for respect; most women long first for relationship. Of course, there are exceptions to this pattern in both men and women. But that’s what they are…exceptions. Because our deepest longings tend to be connected to our gender, our deepest fears do, too. If a woman longs first for relationship, her greatest fear is abandonment or betrayal; the loss of relationship. If a man longs first for respect, his greatest fear is  failure, the loss of respect. Not long ago a friend asked me, “What are the issues that bring out the most shame in men?” I thought immediately of the above way of understanding men. The issues that are most likely to bring up the most shame, have to do with failure: Divorce Bankruptcy Failing college Loss of reputation Not measuring up in sports Getting fired Dishonorable discharge from the military Time in prison Body image Men fear all of these, and once experienced, they can result in enormous shame—the sense of being unusually defective in worth, value and significance. But nothing casts more shame than failure of sexual morality: promiscuity, affairs, porn, prostitutes, STD’s, strip clubs, abortion. These deserve their own list. They are why the Bible says, “Run away from sexual sin. Every other sin people do is outside their bodies, but those who sin sexually sin against their own bodies.” I Cor. 6:18 NCV In my opinion shame is the deepest most frequent emotion many men feel, and they have no idea it’s there, nor how to combat it. As I’ve written in previous posts, you scratch the surface of just about any self-serving, self-protective, self-pleasuring or other-harming behavior in men, and you’ll find shame. It’s the conviction that we don’t matter and no one cares anyway. So we’re going to compensate one way or another. In that respect shame is both the source and the consequence of our sin. How do we overcome shame? We renounce the lies of the Enemy that tell us we should be ashamed of ourselves. We claim the promise of God the Father that we are fully forgiven and fully accepted as sons. We remind ourselves of Scripture that says no one who trusts in God will ever be put to shame.     (Ro. 10:11) We entrust a few well-chosen men with our story, our temptations and our hopes. In doing so, we have community with each other and the blood of Jesus transforms us. (I John 1:7) For men, these three remain: anger, fear and shame. But the greatest of these…is shame. Greater still? The grace of God, the truth of his Word, the hope of community and the power of the blood of...

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Prison Redemption

Posted by on Nov 25, 2014 in Anger, Character, Compassion, Forgiveness, Redemption, Transformation | 3 comments

I haven’t spent a lot of time in prison. But I vividly remember each visit. Last weekend I joined my friend, Ron, in a visit to the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, about 2 hours southeast of Colorado Springs. It wasn’t my first visit to a jail or prison, and just to be clear, none of them had anything to do with my misbehavior. When I was in high school my dad and I joined a pastor on a visit to Cook County Jail in Chicago, one of the largest and notoriously violent jails in the U.S. In 1998 I explored the possibility of involving men from Willow Creek Church in regular prison ministry in Latin America. I’ll never forget the awful conditions of the nearly 100 men living in a filthy holding cell designed for 30, in Quito, Ecuador. They were angry and violent; waiting endlessly for the trial that would determine their future fate. The conditions at Arkansas Valley were far cleaner, organized and peaceful by comparison. The men I met at a large group Bible study were still facing a similar open-ended future of managed lock-up, but there was a pervasive sense of peace and hope. It was a shocking contrast to me. I was welcomed at the classroom door by Deon, a kind-faced, friendly, eloquent inmate who helps lead the study. My friend Ron has a special place in his heart for Deon. Years ago Deon got into a heated argument with his best friend, also named Ron. In the heat of the moment, Deon was overcome by rage and beat his friend so severely that he was hospitalized suffering from trauma that will probably never heal. Deon nearly killed him, and now lives out a years-long sentence. It was hard to connect this story of violence and rage with the kind man who greeted me at the door. On the way home Ron told me the incident that brought transformation and peace to Deon. He will most likely never see his friend Ron again, so his opportunity for any face-to-face repentance or reconciliation is virtually nil. But on one of their first meetings with each other Deon turned to my friend Ron, and asked him, since he shared the name of his friend, if he would personally “stand-in” for the Ron he nearly murdered. What followed were intimate words of confession, apology, repentance; tears and weeping. Deon was looking at my friend, Ron; but he was speaking to his friend Ron. That day Deon embraced spiritual and emotional freedom. It’s a tangible story of redemption. God takes awful brokenness and transforms it into power and compassion. That’s the only way the Deon, who nearly killed his best friend, could become the Deon of grace who leads others into deeper knowledge of God. When we confess, apologize and repent, God can do the same for all of...

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Avoiding Highway D

Posted by on Oct 21, 2014 in Anger, Character, Redemption, Transformation | 20 comments

Having grown up in northern Illinois, I have a permanent memory of certain highway route numbers and the roads they pertain to: Rt. 68, Dundee Road; Rt. 83, Elmhurst Road; Rt. 21 Milwaukee Road, and so on. In Wisconsin they seem to have a partially different system, which is based largely on letters rather than numbers. Perhaps a Wisconsinite can inform the rest of us if there’s a hidden reason for that. Not long ago my brother-in-law, and I were chatting about how we respond to hardship and disappointment in our lives. I confess that, due to high expectations of myself, I’m vulnerable to disappointment. Every now and then that disappointment leads to discouragement; which every few years or so can lead to depletion. I want to change that. Some of you reading this know that depletion can then lead to despair. I can honestly say, that while I haven’t been to despair, I’ve seen the off-ramp that leads there. I’m not interested in making a visit. Disappointment-Discouragement-Depletion-Depression-Despair. I call them way-points on Highway D. How do we avoid this highway, or at the very least, how do we recognize the way-points and turn away from the next one before we enter its territory? There are 3 options for us to avoid getting stuck on this downward path: 1. Change our circumstances. Where we have choices, we must flee physical, emotional, mental and spiritual abuse. We must flee immoral and unethical behavior when we run into it. In those cases we must change our circumstances to avoid a downward spiral of emotions. But more commonly, the issues we wrestle with most deeply are our own inner struggles with the difficulties of every day life. Those conditions and our reactions to them follow us, no matter the marriage, church, business or state we are in. Like an imaginary backpack into which we stuff anger, resentment, shame, fear or isolation, those destructive emotions follow us around. The one common denominator we carry into all the “Change our circumstances” options is our backpack. We bring it wherever we go. As a result, changing circumstances isn’t always the solution to our struggles. 2. Change our expectations. Often our disappointments are based on our expectations of how life ought to go. Americans in particular have a built-in expectation (we might even say demand) for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The world doesn’t always offer those options. While they might be fine values on which to build a nation, they aren’t values on which to build Christian character. The apostle Paul wouldn’t have come up with that list. His list might have been more along the lines of self-sacrifice, humility, and the pursuit of Christlikeness. (Phil. 2:1-11) If we expect a life free from illness, loss, limitations or sorrow, we are setting ourselves up for great disappointment. Some Christians think our lives should be defined by unending provision, health, riches and acts from God that serve our wants. If that describes us, we may well need to revise those expectations. 3. Change our beliefs. When bad things happen, our beliefs and assumptions about life rise to the surface: • I lose my job; I believe my boss is a jerk. • My wife is dying; I believe God must be teaching her a lesson. • My child is pulling away from church; I believe God must not be paying attention. • Everything I put my hand to is filled with futility; I believe there must be something defective about me. Blame, shame, and anger at God, or others, all come from our deeply...

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When It Rains, It Hails

Posted by on Aug 29, 2014 in Anger, God, Transcendence | 10 comments

In the past few months I’ve grown increasingly weary by a series of unmet hopes and regular-life challenges. I recounted to a friend the technical disruptions that began first with this blog, and then the Peregrine website, being hacked; thousands of dollars being defrauded from two accounts (since reimbursed); email turning annoyingly glitchy and then entirely “dark,” disrupted for days. I also related the hail storm that caused thousands of dollars of damage to our car, the nine weeks of limitless repair delays, followed by an unbelievable claim against us (which we are contesting) for another $1500 hail damage on the rental car after we returned it. I mentioned a few other issues that felt like unfair piling on and he responded, “Wow, when it rains, it hails.” We all know that feeling: the periodic seasons in our lives when it seems that everything that could go badly, does. We watch friends’ marriages fall distant until they finally divorce in exhaustion; the shocking physical maladies that follow one after another, seemingly at random; financial losses at the hands of others who have no sense of integrity; the slow, gradual passing away of parents; children who suffer teasing or discrimination through no fault of their own. When does it end? I have felt the sadness, pain and confusion of friends, and have had very little to offer in terms of advice. I’ve recognized that I’ve felt bewilderment, compassion and even agony at their suffering. I’ve also increasingly recognized that I’ve been angry. At God. Though it may sound dangerous to admit it, I know God is certainly “big enough” to handle my anger. Many of the most honest authors in Scripture have admitted as much. It has felt in some ways like righteous anger, ironically, to feel this way on behalf of others. Increasingly, though, I’ve needed to admit that I’m angry at God, on my behalf, not just on others’. The challenges I encounter pale in comparison to those of other friends; and they certainly do in comparison to a man like Job in the Old Testament. But rereading his story is revealing to me some important principles. In the book, The Gospel According to Job, author Mike Mason points out that Job’s first response in trial was to worship God. But he did so honestly. Was he filled with some sort of other-worldly peace and joy in the middle of his suffering? “No, not at all. He was as broken and cast down as a man can be.” (p. 35) Yet he still chose to worship (Job 1:21a). Mason points out that “real worship has less to do with offering sacrifices than with being a sacrifice ourselves.” (p. 36) I’m reminded, yet again, that this world is so horribly broken that we will regularly encounter the disappointments and tragedies life offers to all. When you and I feel the weight of the world’s brokenness, when it seems that it is not only raining, it’s hailing, remember that our very lives themselves are an offering to God. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, for this is your spiritual worship.” (Ro. 12:1) An indication of growing spiritual maturity is the ability to worship in the middle of life’s...

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