Mass Communities, Preventing School Violence

I was asked yesterday my thoughts on how to stop the mass shootings, particularly at schools, short of "world peace, spiritual revival, and extensive gun control." This is not an area that I approach lightly, with so many families effected by gun violence. I also know I'm not a mental health professional, but I know communities pretty well. There are several common things I see in mass school shootings that we all can have a role in changing.

1) Lonely guys:
Almost every perpetrator of mass shootings was a male viewed as an "outsider, quiet guy, someone who kept to himself, or had a few friends." This pattern has been repeated for the last 20 years. While it is a dangerous stereotype to create (being one of those quiet guys in school), it is an important one to understand.

We need more caring adults in the lives of our youth. We need greater spiritual, emotional, and developmental support of youth. Our churches need a transformative presence in our communities, our communities need meaningful relationships, and our families need interconnected networks. Families, churches, schools, and community cannot do it alone, this is a fight for every youth, both victim and perpetrator.

2) Relationship Corruption:
These perpetrators tend to be young men who have had issues with developing and maintaining relationship, more than the average teen. These tend to be heterosexual males, most often they have recently broken up with a girlfriend, been rejected by a girl, or warped expectations of relationships with women. Again and again, these young guys choose to deal with heartbreak, rejection, and frustration through violent expressions.

We need better examples, better media, and better relationships. I don't expect a "Leave it to Beaver" world, but we lack good media examples of families with values. Our youth are looking for leaders, for men (and women) who can guide and encourage them, invest in their lives, care for their souls, and create a brighter future. We need stronger families that teach how to deal with frustration and disappointment aside from violence or separation. We need better media that doesn't objectify women and glorify sexuality, that doesn't, in the same broadcast, talk about a violent crime against women and then discuss the latest celebrity's body modification or photo scandal. If journalism is to be respected again, publish meaningful news. Lastly, we need better school systems that allow for more creative outlets and teach kids how to express them selves in other more acceptable ways. We need sports, play, arts, and entertainment opportunities for our youth. We need funding for these "non-core" courses that can make all the difference with our youth.

3) Weaponized Violence:
These mass shootings have just that, guns. I do believe that law-abiding citizens have the right to carry guns. I know that gun laws do impact those citizens the most and gangs still get guns. What we have a problem with is our culture of guns. Most perpetrators obtained guns legally, as youth, or had access to them in their homes, despite warning signs and behavioral alerts. Many had a "fascination" with guns, violence, or studied mass shootings. There are few of these that happen as stabbings, drivings, or smashings... these are shootings, guns must be addressed.

I won't open this debate up here too much, but I cannot address shootings without addressing the tool used to create them. We need more supervision and limitation over youth access to guns. I get that it is culture and that it has not been my family's culture. Those with founded mental issues, should not have access to guns. Those that do not secure their weapons and have them stolen, should probably lose their access to guns. Also, guns aren't cars, cars were made for transportation, guns were made to kill, we have to have policy that addresses them as such. We have had shootings in all corners of the country, with all sorts of backgrounds, this is a gun culture issue. We have to address the issue and not shy away from the tough and meaningful discussion. We cannot just use anecdotes, stories, and fears of government take over to frame the conversation, but that this is real and meaningful issue in our community. We must be willing to put aside our beliefs about guns and find real solutions. We have to start to love our youth more than our guns.

This isn't a conversation for everyone, but is one that we have to have. I share this because it is on my mind and heart. It is time for our churches to see our real need for community revival, our families to become beacons in our neighborhoods, and our schools to become sacred community ground to be protected and supported. This is possible, but we have to be willing to go the extra mile, to invest ourselves, and to take risks forming new relationships.

Perfection: getting sued for your bike and offering them your car.

"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Matt 5:48

Perfection comes, not through separation from our surrounding community, but through immersion. From being around those that don't want you around, that are likely to use and take advantage of you because of your giving. It takes us being centered in Christ, letting his love work through us. This is uncomfortable.

Christ describes that perfection in 10 important ways like this (Matt 5:38-48):

1) Love your neighbor...

2) Love your enemy...

3) Bless them that curse you...

4) Pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you...

5) When sued, give your coat and your cloak...

6) Go the extra mile...

7) Lend to those that don't return it...

8) Give them your other cheek...

9) Welcome the stranger...

10) Be centered on heavenly perfection...

I've read the "be-attitudes" ever since I was a little kid. You know the "Blessed are the..." peacemakers, righteous seekers, mourners, meek, poor, persecuted... Well, if you keep reading down the instruction he gives we often get to a very routine set of spiritual goals that most of us have given up trying to live. This list is always a good moral guide, often when convenient, and is often tied to the "golden rule" by considering our enemy as one that is not to be hated but loved. 

I don't know how many times I have read this passage and missed two "Be's":
 Be Perfect & Be 

1) The first thing i would always miss was the intent of the passage wasn't to set out a checklist but a description. I would read this passage and say "hope I can be that way some day." What I missed in understanding the passage is it wasn't a to do list at all, it was a descriptor list of spiritual perfection. Verse 48 clearly tells us to be this way, not try to, not hope to, but to be this way. This is not an act but rather a state of being, a presence of mind to respond to a challenge with love rather than rage. 

2) The second thing I found towards the end of the passage where he tells us not to be as the "publicans" and only wave at the people we like, or to only hang out with the religious people we value. Often we think that to be closer to God is to be separated from the world, but Christ challenges that idea. As he describes, to be closer to God we get closer to people, especially people we don't know, are uncomfortable with, and need the gospel message. It is our tendency to close ourselves off for safety that keeps us from serving him fully.

How many of these are we really following? How would the gospel spread if we put our own priorities aside, got uncomfortable and spent time with the lost?

Got me thinking this morning.

Church Official: Christ is fat, drunk, and just one of the guys

"And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.

But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.

...And the Lord said 'Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation?...

...For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, 'He hath a devil.'

'The Son of man [Christ] is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber [a drunk], a friend of publicans and sinners!

'But wisdom is justified of all her children.'" Luke 7.29-31, 33-35


This passage has been an eye opener for me...

The religious leaders of the day accused Christ of being a "glutton, a drunk, and a friend of sinners."

They missed the reality that our relationships and fellowship with the lost, sick, and rejected are critical to our Gospel mission. They wanted him to minister and live as the religious of the day did, to associate only with other religious people, to eat and drink in ways that they had been limited to, to only visit homes and places they wanted him to go.

Instead they missed the entire point of Christ's ministry: seeing souls receive the Gospel.

Christ says that the "wisdom" in which he ministers will be "justified" by her "children" (by the results) in vs 35. He says this know what just happened in the verses preceding, vs 29, where "all the people that heard him," except the religious leaders, accepted the Gospel and were baptized. Christ's wisdom in choosing to eat and drink with the rejected, partying, lost crowd was justified by the work of the Gospel to change those lives.

Are we only ministering in safe ways? To only people like us? Only in places that our religious friends approve? Only in places that we are comfortable, places where we are not tempted?

This passage has hit me hard.

I should always be checking to see if my fear of temptation or fear of falling becomes a barrier to service. I know that Christ went to many unsavory homes and was tempted, but remained without sin. I'm not Christ, but I believe his willingness to go there is to show the capability of a spirit led life to over come temptation. I find it is often easier to fall in the places I am most comfortable rather than new or challenging places.

May I never become too spiritually refined that I would never be accused of associating with the lost. May I not do so much to avoid temptation that I avoid those that need Christ the most. May my faith in God's spirit of love, power and a sound mind be greater than fear of failure and accusations.

When people see me, may they see a student of the Great Physician ministering among the spiritual wounded and sick. May I have the boldness to enter, the humbleness to minister, and the discernment to live a balanced life.

I will not be justified in the end by what I didn't eat or drink, but by the work of the Gospel in the lives around me.

Learning to be uncomfortable for Christ.

Leftover Sacrifices

What if our churches shut their doors until we decided to give ourselves wholly to Christ? How many would be open today? What example would the ones still open be within our world today as churches full of true disciples? 

“Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, So that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you,” Says the Lord of hosts, “Nor will I accept an offering from your hands." Malachi 1.10 (nkjv)

The people of Israel were offering moldy bread,  blind, sick, and lame animals to the temple as sacrifices and saw nothing wrong with it (vs 7-9).  Even the priests excused it, so that God would rather they shut the doors than see them give leftover sacrifices. How much more do we serve out of our excess rather than out of our weakness? Do we give the things we can live without our live without that we may give? 

Our churches and we, as believers, need revival. We need a renewed faith, a broken spirit, as a cup poured out, we need a new heart - holy, full of love,  sacrificial, heavenly minded, full of joy unspeakable, abounding with life, speaking the truth in love,  given wholly to Christ. We need to live as true disciples of Christ, living in a spirit of love,  power, and a sound mind. Given to him, not for security or favor of God, but out of a love and acceptance of his precious  offer for us. 

 "Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me" 
- Jesus

I was studying this (in Crazy Love by Francis Chan) as i was preparing to teach this morning and can not shake the thought, hope you are challenged too. 

5 Community Partnership Principles

I have been strongly reminded this month that this neighborhood work is a messy work.
Contrary to popular belief, I'm not here to just provide a community service (trash pick-up, put out fires, repave a road...), I am here to empower and equip people to improve their neighborhoods.
These are 5 of my principles that I think makes for a good neighborhood partnership.
  1. Empowerment: If you come to me with your hand out, I ask that you reach into your own pocket first, then take a quick inventory of what and who you know to help you accomplish the task.
  2. Ownership: I can assist you, I can guide you, but you have to do it. It isn't mean to say no, because it is often the only way the effort will last and it will mean something to you for accomplishing it. Start simple and grow as your resources grow.
  3. Respect: Value your partners, when you undermine the work they do, they will not run to your aid so quickly the next time. Stand up for them, respect them, challenge them, and be honest with them.
  4. Unity: It has to be done together and can not be done alone, each person has a role they can fulfill better than most others. Do it, do it well, and do it together.
  5. Adaptability: Everyone starts at a different place, so what has worked for one may not work for another. Treat everyone fairly, not necessarily the same.