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.

 

PLAYGROUND FAITH In a Toys R’nt Us World

PLAYGROUND FAITH  In a Toys R’nt Us World

Our church took a step of faith this month, spending about $10,000 on a new playground that should serve us for another twenty years. But the faith had nothing to do with raising money. Being a frugal bunch, we had been setting aside funds for capital improvements for years. No, the faith had to do with spending it on play-equipment in the first place. The way things are going in America, playgrounds could become a thing of the past, relics of the baby-boom gone bust.

Consider the trends: Seventy-year-old icon of childhood, Toys R Us, just closed all 800 stores, blaming the Amazon insurgency along with Wal-Mart and Target for its market decline. They were also over-leveraged, but the root of the problem is declining demand. “Most of our end-customers are newborns and children,” they said in a statement, “and, as a result, our revenue are dependent on the birthrates in countries where we operate. In recent years, many countries’ birthrates have dropped or stagnated as their population ages, and education and income levels increase.”[1]

Bottom-line, men and women aren’t getting married as often or as young as they used to. When they do they aren’t having as many babies, if they have any at all. Breakpoint’s John Stonestreet reports that the U.S. fertility rate is near 1.77 children per woman, or below the replacement rate necessary to sustain our population at current levels.[2] Children are expensive to have and costly to raise, we reason, and that’s true. But the more we treasure our treasure the less we value life.

The roots of this lie in the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the advent of “the pill,” when we divorced sex from marriage and devalued children in the process. But it has greater ramifications than the closing of a toy store chain. The supply of young workers that keep an economy growing and social programs funded declines as the population grays and demand for social services increases. Financial crises loom as this population mega-shift occurs.

But there’s more to it than that. Having children pleases God and drives spiritual growth.

From the Genesis mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” to Jesus’s command to “let the little children come to me,” the Bible is a pro-children book. “Children are a reward from God … a crown to the aged,” wrote Solomon.[3] Ask any grandparent and you will hear “Amen!”

Raising children from diapers to diplomas is the most demanding thing anyone can do, and the most spiritually rewarding. Kids expose our selfishness and call out service: will I buy that new boat or put money aside for braces? Volunteer to coach soccer or stay in bed on Saturday mornings? Children also challenge our moral inconsistencies: “Daddy, should you really be driving that fast … on the way to church?” Most uncomfortably, children reveal our character flaws just by sharing our DNA. It’s humbling to realize that those little ones who “look just like Daddy!” also share his penchant for show-boating, self-pity, arrogance, and mendacity.

Finally—and this is only a partial list—children teach us total dependence on God. Ask any parent who has ever said, “My child will never (fill-in-the-blank),” and they will tell you that there is only one God and we aren’t him. We have no ability whatsoever to control outcomes in the lives of our little ones. God created them, gave them free will, and allows them to use it. Sooner or later—and the sooner the better—we release them to him and pray, trusting when they fall that he will raise them up, and rejoicing when they succeed.

So, building playgrounds is an act of faith. But having babies is even greater. May God bless us all with more of both.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/03/15/toys-r-uss-baby-problem-is-everybodys-baby-problem/

[2] http://www.breakpoint.org/2018/04/breakpoint-toys-r-us-to-close-down/

[3] Psalm 127:3 & Proverbs 17:6

Can We Hear Them Now?

Can We Hear Them Now?

Facebook, 2018: A young father shared the moment he felt his daughter in her mother’s womb.

“I’d only briefly felt this baby move before. I tried to feel her move again and again to no avail. But finally, lying there last night next to her mom, snuggled up close because of the cold, I felt kick after kick. Long after my lady had gone to sleep, there was our little one still kicking away. There ain’t words to truly describe what my heart felt.”

I read that post and smiled, remembering what it was like to be a young father many years ago, when before my daughters had voices they spoke to us with kicks.

Another story I saw this week took me back even further, to the moment the world stopped hearing the voiceless words of children in the womb.

Dr. Richard Selzer, an enlightened surgeon, fully committed to the latest medical philosophies, and desiring to learn the best techniques, wanted to watch a new procedure. He’d heard of it, but never seen one performed so he asked a fellow physician if he could attend.

The patient was 19 weeks pregnant, lying on the table, prepped for the procedure. The surgeon took a syringe filled with a prostaglandin solution, sank the needle up to its hub into the woman’s belly, pushed the plunger down and left it there for a few moments.

Selzer described what happened next. ““I see something other than what I expected here. … It is the hub of the needle in the woman’s belly that has jerked. … Once more it wobbles, is tugged, like a fishing line nibbled by a sunfish.”

Slowly, the desperate fight for life faded. The needle stopped jerking. The voiceless screaming ceased, but not in Selzer’s head. “Nothing can argue against the truth of what I saw that day.”

That story, “What I Saw at the Abortion,” originally appeared in Esquire in January 1976, and appeared most recently in Marvin Olasky’s World Magazine interview with pro-life feminist Frederica Matthews-Green.*

The trajectory of Green’s life was changed by that brief paragraph in Esquire. Up until then she sported a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t labor under a misconception. Legalize abortion.” Now she is known by her most famous quote: “No woman wants an abortion like she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion like an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.”

Would that the trajectory of the world had changed with her.

Ideas have consequences and, as John Stonestreet says, they also have victims. The two greatest victims of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s were women, who lost the protection long afforded to them by traditional mores and the covenant of marriage, and children, who lost the protection not only of a two-parent home, but of the womb. Both suffer in abortion. Both need our help.

The women were voiceless until 2017, stifled by fear, or powerful men, or both. Now they are speaking and the nation is listening. Maybe in the context of so much truth-telling those other heretofore voiceless victims will also speak.

Can we hear them now?

*Marvin Olasky, “Path to Pro-Life: Overcoming Pro-Abortion Peer Pressure with Facts.” Interview with Frederica Matthews-Green by Marvin Olasky in World Magazine, January 20, 2018. https://world.wng.org/2018/01/path_to_pro_life

THE MEMORY TREE

THE MEMORY TREE

The tree appears like magic every year, the day after Thanksgiving. Rising from the floor to its full seven feet, strung with lights and nothing else, a green canvas of branches waiting to be adorned by the master artist I married.

From old boxes emerge simple ornaments, each a reminder of years and blessings past. First the forty, communion cup ice cream sundaes, created the year we met.  Then twenty-five Nut Cracker characters, crafted from clothes pins our first year of marriage when we were poor as church mice. Twenty decorative fans follow, formed from folded Christmas cards and glue-on lace that second year of seminary poverty. Cross-stitched frames with our girls’ names find their favorite branches, gifts from Grandma’s hand. Miniature presents from the “My Gift is Me” story, wrapped in metallic green, red, blue, silver, and purple are accompanied by popsicle-stick sleds the girls made with Mom.

A starfish Santa that came from the lady who had a Christmas tree in every room – “Can we do that?” my dear decorator asked.

“NO!”

But she could make driftwood Santa’s to keep the solidified starfish company, and she did, along with thirty of our fifty-odd nativities, made of cloth, flower pots, fabric, wooden spoons, and everything you can think of. An angel from our missionary friend, a star from Sandie, in our then-new pastorate. And finally, on winter’s first whisper, sixty hand crocheted snowflakes, gifts from another pastor’s wife, because snow can’t fall till it gets cold.

I gaze with greater wonder each year. How does she do it? There is no plan, no scheme, no blueprint or photo of where to place each ornament. Even if I had one I couldn’t do it, not without her. She has the eye, the perspective, the balance of all the elements in her head. By themselves in a box they are just pieces of paper, thread, and popsicle sticks. Stuff other folks would throw away. But in her hands, they come together to form something money cannot buy: beauty.

Simple, lovely, one-of-a-kind, a memory tree never exactly the same from year to year, but always a powerful visual aid that the Creator-Redeemer can take whatever we give him, no matter how plain or simple, and arrange it into something beautiful.

Merry Christmas!

THE SELAH CENTER: New Help for an Old Problem

“We need to talk.” The message alarmed Tom because his girlfriend, whom he had dated since middle school, usually felt free to text anything. But this time she would only agree to meet in person. With his subconscious screaming, you know what this is! but his frontal lobe in full denial mode, he made his way to their favorite spot in the stairwell at the high school. The look on her face said it all, “I’m pregnant.”

If you can identify with the desperate situation in which these teens find themselves, and statistics tell us that about thirty percent of us can, you know what it is like to be unmarried, pregnant, or with a pregnant girlfriend, and totally unprepared. For over forty years the standard procedure for people in this situation has been to find the local abortion provider and “deal with the problem.” One in seven pregnancies still ends in abortion.

But a combination of improved ultra-sound technology, multiple stories of abortion-injured women, and Planned Parenthood scandals is causing more and more women to seek an alternative solution.

That’s the role that Southside Virginia’s newest crisis pregnancy service provider, The Selah Center, hopes to fill in ever greater ways as it observes its first anniversary in operation.

The Selah (pronounced Say-la) Center, located at 403 Virginia Avenue, between Pizza Pub and United Country in Clarksville, opened on May 26, 2016, has helped many clients in its first year with services including pregnancy testing, post abortion peer counseling, pre-natal and parenting care techniques for mothers-to-be. But Selah also provides male mentoring, peer counseling, and classes on finding a job, making and keeping a budget, and how to buy a good used car for future fathers.

The Center is also committed to the development of expectant moms as whole persons. Clients receive “Boutique Bucks” for each class attended that are then redeemed for diapers, wipes, bath items, children’s clothing up to 2T, and other baby care necessities.

Selah Center Executive Director, Christie Russell says, “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that God would ask me to join Him in this work.” But Russell, who holds a B.S. in Global Marketing Management from Averett College, and a Masters in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that over the years she had so many conversations with so many hurting young women, that when a speaker from the Tidewater Area issued a challenge to her congregation to open their own pregnancy center she found she could not say “No”.

With Transitions Pregnancy Services in Danville, and The Selah Center in Clarksville, Halifax County women and men now have two options for help during a crisis pregnancy. If you need help with a pregnancy, or you would like to donate, you can contact them at 434-362-2207, or find them on the web at theselahcenter.org.

OUTGROWING POVERTY

My heart went out to the young man on the phone and the woman who had taken him in. He had fallen in love with her at work and needed a place to stay and, well, one thing led to another. He had only been out of prison for a few months, still trying to get back on his feet, and his original housing arrangement hadn’t worked out. Her power was about to be cutoff on this damp, cold night.

I had helped in enough of these situations to know that a few bucks weren’t going to keep the heat on, and it was too late in the day to involve the church or other agencies, so I went to the ATM, pulled out $350, and handed it to her in Wal-Mart so she could get the money order and pay her bill.

That’s what Christians are supposed to do right, help the poor? Then why did I feel robbed when she unceremoniously kicked him out before the next billing cycle? Well, frankly, because I had been. I was a voluntary victim of my own hyperactive empathy, unbiblical anthropology, and upside-down economic theory. The only reason I’m sharing this is so that you won’t think me a cold-hearted capitalist if you keep reading.

Nobody likes poverty. No one enjoys seeing other people suffer with only thin blankets between them and a frigid night. Everyone with a conscience informed by Jesus’s Good Samaritan wants to, and should, help in an emergency. But the only way to help people get out, and stay out, of chronic poverty is to help them outgrow it. That’s a lot harder than pulling a few hundred bucks out of an ATM on a cold November night.

Prevailing models of aid view economic resources as limited. There are the haves and the have-nots, and the only way to help the have-nots is for the haves to hand it over. That’s called wealth redistribution, which is completely different from wealth creation. If we’re going to help people get out and stay out of chronic poverty, we need to believe in the expandable economic pie. World Magazine’s Joel Belz reminds us of this in his tribute to American Catholic philosopher (and lifelong Democrat) Michael Novak, who died last month.[1]

Novak often referenced eighteenth-century economist Adam Smith, saying, “The really unusual insight of Adam Smith is in effect a theological insight—that the world is not a finished system. If it were finished, then the urgent need would be for a distributive system. But God made the world differently, with the potential for constantly creating new wealth.” Finding the causes of poverty is not difficult, but we need to find ways to help the poor create wealth.

The first way to help people outgrow poverty is to help them believe that God has given them the power to create wealth, to provide for themselves. Doing this restores their dignity as creatures made in his image who have power, some ability to determine their own destiny.

Another Novak quote corrects the unbiblical anthropology undermining our attitudes toward the poor as well as our ideas about helping them: “Socialism is a system for saints. Democratic capitalism works because it’s a system for sinners.” If we’re going to help each other, we have to be truthful about human nature–that we are prone to oppression and greed, as well as fraud, and indolence. Socialism is brilliant, if we can count on rich and poor alike to ignore economic incentives, but we cannot.

Pure, unregulated, free-market capitalism will almost always favor the strong over the weak, or uninformed. That’s why we needed, for example, some of the credit agency and loan industry reforms passed by the last administration, the “democratic” in Novak’s capitalism.

But the “sinners” part of the equation covers the poor as well as the rich. Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. Many single young women now see having babies in order to collect more government assistance as a de facto career path. Marrying the father is out of the question because he would be expected to provide for his own, thus reducing the monthly stipend. The result is that more children are born to more unwed mothers. Perverse economic incentives reap a cycle of increasing dependence as well as the social pathologies that arise from families without fathers.

The biblical view of human nature takes these things into account. That’s why in the Bible, help for the poor recognizes the difference between a crisis and a chronic need. Ongoing, versus emergency assistance, was always predicated on the idea that the receiver performed some kind of work (Deut. 24:17-22).

The bedraggled man at the end of the off-ramp held a crude sign: “I have a wife and child and another on the way. Will work today.” Reliable reporting tells us that these guys often pull in hundreds of untaxed dollars a day. Even so, avoiding his pleading gaze as he made his way along the line of cars was almost more than I could take. Everything in me wanted to pull out a twenty and hand it over. But he kept a respectful distance and I, feeling like an absolute shmuck, kept my wallet in my pocket.

Perhaps the hardest part of helping people outgrow poverty is overcoming our hyperactive empathy. And I don’t believe that God will ever judge us for handing a few bucks to a beggar. But I am utterly convinced that he will ask us one day, “Why did you, in the most prosperous economic system ever developed by man, allow poverty to perpetuate itself, when you knew how to help people outgrow it?”

[1] https://world.wng.org/2017/03/system_for_sinners

THE CAT’S IN THE CRADLE

Three little towheaded girls tossed me back two decades last Sunday. I was waiting my turn at Dairy Queen while their mom patiently absorbed and sorted through their excited chatter to find just the right treats. The other graying men standing near me were all smiles, utterly charmed by these beautiful innocents who couldn’t have been more than four or five years old.

My three daughters, all grown-up now and making lives of their own, came rushing back to me just as charming and sweet–full of happiness and curiosity as little girls. My heart gave a lurch as I yearned for just one more of those long gone days.

But life and time doesn’t work like that, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to encourage you younger dads and moms to enjoy those fleeting moments with your kids. I know you need the encouragement because I know the pressures you face and how easily they distract you.

Children require nurturing in every way. Every day is one of learning, testing, trying, and needing, so very much needing your attention. “But there were planes to catch and bills to pay, he learned to walk while I was away,” to borrow from Harry Chapin’s poignant hit, “The Cat’s in the Cradle.” It is all too easy to let the pressures of providing, the stress of disciplining, and the other demands of life rob you of the joy of the moment, the excitement of the ice cream shop, the thrill of the zoo, and the silliness suffused in the life of a child.

Don’t miss those minutes, moms and dads. Don’t let your preoccupation with your boss, your business, your spouse, or yourself distract you from the tangible joys that are already yours in the lives of your children. Give thanks for every minute that they are home, for the time will come, and all too soon, when childhood waves goodbye.

As the mom and her girls turned away from the counter, treats in hand, our eyes met and I smiled, “I had three just like that. They are beautiful.” She just beamed, God bless her. And God bless you too, moms and dads, as you nurture your kids. Thanks for sharing them with us.