ON MENTAL ILLNESS Last Ride With Big Mike

ON MENTAL ILLNESS  Last Ride With Big Mike

Suicide and mental illness have been much in the news lately. In light of that, and by way of encouragement, I thought I would re-post this story about my brother, who in great pain considered taking his own life, but chose the better path.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Heb 12:1 NIV)

Nitrogen fumes from the Shell premium gas Mike burned in his Honda CBR 1100 XX drifted back to us, threading their way into our helmets along with the mountain aromas of cool granite, green laurel and fresh-cut grass. I kept pace with Mike and his passenger, my daughter Mikeala, on a borrowed BMW, railing the tight curves and slowing to a walk on the switchbacks of Georgia SR 180 as we wound our way up Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the state.  It would be our last motorcycle ride together before he died on August 5th, 2010—and one of the best—climaxing as it did with a view of the world from 4,784 feet. He had already covered 200 of the 350 miles he would ride that day and wasn’t even tired.

My older brother Mike suffered from atypical bipolar disorder. This disease, or something like it, was not new to our family. Our aunt suffered for years before taking her own life. Our grandfather was also disabled by it. It hit Mike in his 39th year, brought on (we believe) by a reaction to a blood pressure medication.

Big Mike, his nickname in the neighborhood, was always bigger and stronger than me and most of my friends. He was also a rock when I needed him most. Watching him break into a thousand mental pieces was almost more than I could bear. But watching him climb up out of that psychological black hole, a place from which few men return, was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever witnessed. We talked about writing a book on it. I’m writing this today to encourage you and anyone else that you know who suffers from a mental disorder.

Mike’s journey from the pit of despair back to mental health was marked by three things.

Humility. Mike was a proud man, a strong man that submitted himself to hospitalization under the care of competent professionals who prescribed medication and psychotherapy. Once out of the hospital Mike took responsibility for himself and worked the program. It took years. And like many bipolar patients, along the way Mike decided he no longer needed the meds. This led to a relapse and another hospital stay. But the second time was the charm. He humbled himself by taking his medicine every day and visiting a counselor every week for years. Even when he no longer needed the counselor he stayed on the medicine and visited a therapist now and then just to keep a check on himself. He knew the disease too well and as strong as he was, knew he couldn’t handle it alone.

Faith. In all the years of his suffering Mike never turned his back on Jesus Christ. I never heard him blame God or use his illness and disappointment as an excuse to quit worshiping or neglect his devotions or stop fellowshiping with other believers. He wanted to be well and he knew that in the end, only walking with Jesus would give him the strength to get there.

Perseverance. Sadly, many suffering people give up and let their illness define them for the rest of their days, or take their life. Mike never gave up. Even after two years of unemployment due to his disease, something that spins many men down into depression, he kept up his courage. He was as healthy on that day at the top of the world as I have ever known him, enjoying the good gifts God gave, enjoying the ride, and discussing plans for his new business. No one knew that even though his mind had healed his heart was diseased. He was working on a motorcycle in his garage on the day his heart stopped.

So, if you know someone who is struggling with a mental disorder tell them about my brother. Tell them they can recover. And tell them there’s a big guy in that great cloud of witnesses, cheering them on.

IS YOUR SON THE NEXT SCHOOL SHOOTER? How to Prevent Your Worst Nightmare

IS YOUR SON THE NEXT SCHOOL SHOOTER? How to Prevent Your Worst Nightmare

The school shootings just keep coming, as we should have guessed by now they would. Without the intervention of teacher Jason Seaman, Noblesville, Indiana would no doubt have been the third mass shooting in a school in 2018, preceded by Santa Fe, Texas, that took ten lives, and Parkland, Florida that took seventeen and wounded seventeen more. May Seaman’s tribe increase.

Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote on school shootings in the New Yorker in 2015, believes we should expect more. His article developed a theory based on a study of riots by sociologist Mark Granovetter. Each new shooting lowers the threshold for participation. The Columbine shooters broke the storefront window. Others less brash but emboldened are now rushing in and looting the place.

“In the day of Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restrictions on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement.”[1]

Time will tell, but if the 2018 trend indicates anything it is that Gladwell is probably right. As each new incident splashes across the media, more low threshold shooters will take up arms.

Arguments for gun-control will continue to gain steam, communities will seek to harden their schools, and law enforcement improve response times, but those things only address the symptoms of this growing social pathology.[2] We need to get to the roots. All school mass murderers have been boys or young men. The question is: What can we as parents and grandparents do to prevent the development of future predators?

Several common denominators emerge from analysis of these boy-shooters, labeled thus because even if they are in college, they have missed essential developmental steps to manhood. Besides access to guns, which Americans have always had, they are: The desire for revenge; the desire for fame; the need to feel powerful; the copycat phenomenon; narcissistic individualism; mental illness. Those personality disorders are on the rise.

How can parents, grandparents and community leaders interrupt the downward spiral of narcissistic revenge in a boy’s life that leads to mass murder? Obviously, we want to introduce our sons to Jesus Christ, to teach and model for them what it means to follow the Prince of Peace. Beyond that I offer the following suggestions.

First, parents need to be parents again, not friends. You can be friends later, great friends, once your son has achieved manhood, but not before. Until that day he needs leadership willing to exercise controlling authority in his life that will set standards and expectations for behavior with fairness and consistency. From the time the terrible twos strike until he walks across the stage to accept a diploma he needs boundaries and expectations enforced with positive affirmation and memorable discipline.

The reason for that is straightforward. Freud taught that everything wrong with us is our parent’s fault, that if we can only sort out how they wronged us we’ll be alright. The humanists followed with the theory that children are born basically good, innocent blank slates who only need to be shown the good to want it. If the child does wrong there are always reasons, excuses, mitigating factors. It’s not his fault. The psychological health of American boys has been in precipitous decline ever since those theories caught on in the 1960s.[3]

A more reliable and ancient record of human psychology—the Bible—teaches that all children are born with free will and a narcissistic proclivity to choose self over others.

Child and Family Psychologist John Rosemond reported on the connection between that proclivity and violence in his PARENTING BY THE BOOK. The best social science reveals “the characteristics that typify people who possess an abundance of self-esteem:

  • An overriding sense of entitlement (“What I want I deserve to have”)
  • Low self-control, especially when frustrated
  • Apt to explode toward others when they don’t get their way
  • A criminal/sociopath mind-set, distinguished by the belief that the end justify the means”[4]

Training this out of a boy requires teaching him that bad behavior is his fault and he will be held accountable for it. His morals need forming and his instincts need restraining until he is civilized.

Second, if your son doesn’t have a father in the home make sure he has several in the community. Coaches, scout leaders, church men, teachers, ROTC leaders and male mentors of all kinds. Boys need men to show them what servant-leadership looks like, how a real man handles setbacks and disappointments. If you aren’t part of a church with strong male role-models in it find one and pray for God to lead you and your son(s) to the right kind of mentor. Keep him involved in healthy community, whether he wants to or not.

Third, keep him involved in healthy activities that channel his aggressive energies and provide camaraderie. Loneliness in the social media age is becoming pandemic. Screen time is not the same as face time with flesh and blood friends.[5]  Boys, even those who aren’t naturally athletic, have more built-in aggression and competitiveness than girls. If baseball isn’t his game perhaps Karate, Jiu-Jitsu, or golf, or tennis, or chess, or any number of other things will hold his attention. He needs to achieve with other boys and be affirmed in his achievement.

Fourth, interrupt immersion in killology, the phrase coined by former military psychologist David Grossman to define the process by which an average young person is groomed by the military to take human life.

Humans, like many other creatures, are not hard-wired to kill other humans, at least not in cold blood. They must be conditioned to do so. The military figured this out during WWII and developed training regimens that included brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning and role modeling to overcome it. Brutalization desensitizes boys to violence. Classical conditioning, associating violence with pleasurable things like soft-drinks, sex, and laughter, makes them enjoy it. Operant conditioning trains them to do it without thinking. And role modeling shows them it’s socially OK. Much of the entertainment targeted at young men does the same thing, but without the built-in restraints in the military command structure.

Does that mean that every boy who plays World of Warcraft is a potential school shooter? No, but as Grossman reports, “Today the data linking violence in the media to violence in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco.”[6]

If your son or grandson is interested in war-stories, he’s like millions of others who’ve been inspired by military heroes. But if he is immersed in killology he could become quite dangerous without warning. Limit his screen time while giving him other things to pursue.

Fifth, watch closely during those critical years of early adolescence for signs of toxic social situations. Some boys are naturally more resilient, and we don’t want to create more snowflakes. But some situations are more damaging than others. Boys need a few successes under their belts to strengthen their confidence in social situations. If they haven’t had those successes, they need a social environment that won’t poison them with anger and resentment until they can accrue them. Mental illness often begins here.

Sixth, if your boy does need counseling or is diagnosed with a mental or emotional illness, all is not lost. Get the help he needs, but in the meantime, remove all firearms from your home.

School shootings have become a waking nightmare for America and it isn’t only the families of the victims who hurt, but the families of the shooters as well. Do whatever it takes to keep it from being your worst nightmare too.

[1] https://medium.com/@spencerbaum/mob-psychology-the-riot-effect-malcolm-gladwell-and-shirley-jackson-4bf2ec6ef427

[2] (See Gun Control on Daneskelton.com).

[3] John Rosemond, PARENTING BY THE BOOK, p. 36.

[4] Ibid p. 54.

[5] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/05/01/606588504/americans-are-a-lonely-lot-and-young-people-bear-the-heaviest-burden?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social

[6] David Grossman, Ph.D., Director, Killology Research Group, Jonesboro, Arkansas. Adapted from a speech delivered at Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas, April 1996.

 

CAUSE & EFFECT IN THE SPIRITUAL WORLD

How we live affects our ability to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit on the one hand and avoid entanglement with evil on the other.

One of the most unsettling books I’ve ever read was M. Scott Peck’s Glimpses of the Devil. Peck was a clinical psychiatrist and author of several bestsellers in the 1970’s and 80’s including, The Road Less Traveled and People of the Lie. Glimpses is the full account of the exorcisms of two of his patients.

With degrees from Harvard and Case Western Reserve, Peck did not see the Devil behind every mental disorder. In fact, until the day he met Jersey, a patient profiled in the book, he did not believe in the Devil. His experiences with her and another patient convinced him not only of the reality of personal spiritual evil, but also of cause and effect in the spiritual world.

“There are two states of being,” Peck wrote, “submission to God and goodness or the refusal to submit to anything beyond one’s own will—which refusal automatically enslaves one to the forces of evil. We must ultimately belong either to God or the devil.”[1]

Science is always catching up with scripture, and Peck the twentieth century scientist, had caught up with things the Apostle Paul taught in the first century about the spiritual world.

Some things we do provide an avenue for evil influence in our lives. Practicing falsehood, indulging anger, and habitual stealing, “give the devil a foothold,” Paul wrote.[2] But who, or what, is the Devil?

The Devil is a hateful, violent, twisted being that despises God and loathes people. He is attracted to sinful behavior like flies to garbage, laying his larvae of spite, lust, and greed to hatch into maggots of bitterness, violence, sexual predation, and avarice. Thus, his evil influence in life spreads like the stench of a landfill on a hot summer day.

As the Devil’s influence swells in a life that makes room for it, so the Spirit’s effect wanes. The knowledge of God’s presence, the strength to withstand temptation, the wisdom, discernment, healing, prophecy, and other manifestations along with love, joy, peace, patience and self-control fade when we ignore Him and indulge evil.

The Spirit of God is gentle, pure, and quiet. He does not go where he is not welcomed.[3] We can choke his influence by our hard hearts.[4]  He grieves over sin in the life of a believer the way a parent is saddened by a wayward child.[5] But when he is welcomed he brings sweet fruit.

Welcome the Spirit of God into your life. Make room for him daily through meditation on Scripture, worship with the Psalms or other spiritual songs, and prayer. Abide in Christ, trusting in his completed work for you on the cross and obeying his commands, and his Spirit’s influence and power in your life will grow.

[1] From the Preface.

[2] Ephesians 4:27

[3] John 20:22

[4] 1 Thessalonians 5:19

[5] Ephesians 4:30

HOW GOD HEALS BROKEN HEARTS

HOW GOD HEALS BROKEN HEARTS

Humanity is broken and hurting. Hear some comments from hurting people:

I’m 48 years old and my wife has just filed for divorce. I never planned for this. I never thought I would be alone and have to start all over this late in life. On top of that it may bankrupt me.

I was still in rehab, just recovering from a gran mall seizure brought on by spinal meningitis that could have killed me, when we learned that our daughter, contrary to everything we had taught her, had just “come out” as gay. We read the letter and sat down in front of her old bedroom door and wept broken and bitter tears.

My first husband beat me. The man I’m married to now doesn’t love me. I am fourth or fifth on his priority list. I’m so lonely and unhappy that I’m flying to the other side of the country to find a job and a new life. My life is adrift.

We only want to know one thing when we’re hurting. We aren’t interested in the weather. We don’t care about the stock market. And we sure don’t care about politics. We only want to know how to be healed.

Psalm 147, the second in a set of five that make up the last songs in the book, is a song about healing.

Verse two gives us the context saying, “He gathers the exiles of Israel.” The Psalm was written to help the people of God worship after their return from exile in Babylon. It was good to go home, but still a time of great brokenness and sadness. Their cities and towns had been destroyed, their property given to foreigners. Their spiritual, civic, and economic infrastructure was like Houston after Hurricane Harvey: a shambles.

The psalm shows us that God heals in four ways: “The Lord builds up; The Lord gathers; The Lord heals; The Lord binds up their wounds.” (V. 2-3).

First, he rebuilds what was broken down—the walls in Israel’s case. He gives them the tools and resources and leadership (under Nehemiah) to make their city secure once again, to keep out invaders, to give them stability.

God rebuilds our walls too. Brokenhearted people are often violated people. When we are sexually abused as children; when parents lose children; when we’ve invested years and fortunes in a career and suddenly lose it, our walls are broken down. We feel violated, less secure.

The healer of broken hearts helps us rebuild our walls. He brings together the tools, and the resources, and the leadership we need to make our city secure again, to give us stability in a shaky world.

Second, God gathers what was scattered. In Israel’s case it was the people, scattered about the Babylonian empire. Bit by bit and tribe by tribe, they made the pilgrimage back to the land of promise. God opened doors for them to leave. Cyrus the king issued a decree making money available. Property was returned. Travel was protected.

How does God heal us? He gathers what was scattered. Brokenhearted people are often lonely people, disconnected from healthy relationships with others. God brings us together for strength and encouragement. The New Testament is full of references to this. (See Acts 2:44-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:3).

God heals us when he gathers us to his people. When we become part of the living body of Christ, the Church, we cease to be scattered. We become connected to others who dispel our loneliness and welcome us into their lives based on our common relationship with Christ.

A challenge: do you isolate yourself? If so you are missing the healing God has for you. You may not like it at first, but it’s what you need, and God has it for you in his Church.

Third, God heals the brokenhearted with the brokenhearted. He heals the addicted with the formerly addicted; the divorced with the previously divorced; the grieving with the grieved, the hope and purpose from those who’ve come through on the other side of brokenness.

But there is a catch to all of this. Or maybe it’s better to say that the path to the healing power of God is counter-intuitive.

We are tempted in our brokenness to turn away from God, even to run. That’s the worst thing we can do. When the storm blows the hardest it is time to lean into him. The Psalmist shows us how.

Embrace humility in the pain. “Sing to him with thanksgiving,” it says (V. 4-7). Praising God when we hurt is a humbling thing, completely counter-intuitive. But that’s where the healing comes from. Lean into that wind. That’s what drives the fear and insecurity away, leaning into him with worship and praise, not running.

Finally, “put your hope in him.” (V. 8-11). Remember what Jesus said to Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus had died? “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?” “Look to me Mary, look to me Martha. Put your hope solely in me.” It’s counter-intuitive, but it works.

Many voices vie for our attention when we are brokenhearted, many people, many philosophies promise peace and healing. Only God can give us the order we need, the comprehensive understanding that leads to healing. Only God can give us himself.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

John Donne famously wrote,

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

Nevertheless, everyone feels isolated, everyone feels alone now and then, perhaps especially during the holidays. It’s part of the human condition, a result of the fall. Eve caved to the serpent’s song followed closely by Adam, each seeking to be like God, only to find that they lost connection with God and each other. Loneliness began in the garden.

From that day to this every man, woman and child knows the ache of loneliness, the pain of separation from his fellows and his Creator. Loneliness assails us especially on significant anniversaries when we feel the loss of loved ones long gone. The divorced also feel the pain, with the added grief that separation was by choice rather than by chance.

It was with such melancholy mental meanderings that I turned to meditate on John 14:1-4, a passage so familiar that the words felt lukewarm on my tongue as I recited them back to God. Lukewarm that is, until I spoke verse three: “And if I go and prepare a place for you,” said Jesus to his downcast disciples, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

… that you also may be where I am. That little phrase lit a pale flame on the horizon of my soul that grew in magnitude like the sun rising in the porch window, filling it with warmth and banishing the night.

… that you also may be where I am, is Jesus telling us that he is just as unsatisfied with the separation as we are, that he knows the ache in our hearts, and that he is doing something about it.

… that you also may be with me where I am, is Jesus telling us how much he wants to be with us, even more than we want to be with him.

…that you also may be with me where I am, is Jesus telling us that we are welcome at his table no matter how inadequate we may feel about being there. It is he who prepared the way, not us, for he was the only one who could.

…that you also may be with me where I am, is Jesus telling us that we are not alone.

I don’t know where this meditation finds you today, perhaps full of joy and good fellowship. But if you are experiencing that existential ache, if you are feeling deeply the losses of life, Jesus offers the way home.

How? Funny, that’s the same question Doubting Thomas asked, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

SURPRISED BY THE FACTS Reflections on Mass Shootings

This blog began as a reflection on the idea that each of these murderers was a failed male. I was going to talk about our need to call and mentor young men into healthy masculinity. I still believe they were failed males, but there are millions of those that never commit mass murder. The facts pushed me in a different direction.

Where to begin?

With compassion for the citizens of Sutherland Springs, Texas? Yes, of course. Their suffering staggers us. Like the open casket at one’s first funeral we shudder to approach it. But for me it’s more about Pastor Frank Pomeroy.

Every pastor shares the soul-shredding grief of sudden death in his congregation and wonders, “How will I comfort them?” But who will comfort Pastor Frank and strengthen him to serve what remains of his congregation as he mourns his daughter and comforts his wife? I pray for him, that Jesus Christ the brutally crucified death conqueror will meet him in power and in his congregation as each one comforts the other.

What about gun control? Violence as entertainment? Hardening soft targets? The inescapable reality of evil? The biblical case for the use of force? Please click the links for my thoughts on those things. Writing on these topics has helped me, and I hope you, process these events from the biblical worldview perspective.

What about outrage at the Air Force bureaucracy that failed to post the shooter’s criminal record, the one that might have prevented purchase of the weapons?  I did not give this much thought at first. As we have known since 9-11, terrorists and murderers only have to succeed once. Law enforcement systems must be 100% perfect to prevent crimes, an impossible standard. Someone will always find a loophole in the law, or bypass it altogether.

At least that was my thinking when I began writing.

This blog started out as a reflection on the idea that each of these murderers was a failed male. I was going to talk about our need to call and mentor young men into healthy masculinity. I still believe they were failed males, but there are millions of those that never commit mass murder. The facts pushed me in a different direction.

Under reporting of mental illness and or criminal backgrounds is a major factor in five of the six mass shootings in the last decade (the jury is still out on the Las Vegas shooter).[1] Each murderer was enabled either by laws meant to protect the mentally ill, or by lack of communication between bureaucracies, or by over protective, enabling family members, or some combination thereof to obtain the weapons, plan, and carry out the massacres. The Virginia Tech shooter, the Charleston shooter, the Sandy Hook shooter, the Roseburg shooter, and the Sutherland Springs shooter never should have been able to purchase the weapons they used.

I suspect that there will be some restrictions on gun sales and production that come out of these recent tragedies, particularly of semi-automatic rifles with large magazines initially designed for the military. And that is probably not a bad thing. But it will not solve the problem if we fail to address our inadequate mental health system and criminal background reporting requirements.

[1] Jihadists terror attacks not included as their motives are different.