The Profile of a Mass Shooter

photo credit: Furryscaly via photopin cc
photo credit: Furryscaly via photopin cc

Once again, the United States has been rocked by a mass shooting in which mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, siblings, children, and grandparents have been brutally murdered. The shooting at the Washington Naval Yard was serious enough (meaning that enough people were killed) to give our nation collective pause—to take a momentary break from our daily pursuits, to express sadness for the senseless loss of life, and to express our continued sense of bewilderment over the escalating number of mass shooting events.

Guns are a factor, for sure, but as I’ve written before, the problem runs much deeper than the availability of weapons. Indeed, we have seen enough of these events to identify common themes at play in the lives of those who commit such acts of violence.

Most mass shooters have been men with identity issues (sometimes to the point of mental instability). Their struggles with insecurity may stem from broken or dysfunctional family environments, or from the systematic mistreatment by peers. Often, detectives uncover a pain-filled combination of the two factors. Immersed in a toxic environment of violent TV shows, movies, and video games that desensitize a heart to the value of human life, their emotions are like dry tinder just waiting for a spark—any spark—to ignite a wildfire.

photo credit: Ansel Edwards Photography via photopin cc
photo credit: Ansel Edwards Photography via photopin cc

In addition, there is another theme that is all too common in our increasingly fractured society—isolation. Don’t get me wrong—there is such a thing as good isolation, such as those times when we withdraw from the daily clamor of life to seek God and to recharge. This, however, is not that. The isolated world of a shooter is full of dark, brooding, life-stealing thoughts. In such situations, the human mind left to its own musings will come to no good conclusions.

What many of us fail to realize is that a shooting rampage is merely the culmination of an ongoing process. For every mass shooter, there are thousands, perhaps even millions of people living in their own isolated worlds, brooding over mistreatment, abandonment, betrayal, and a host of other unjust acts against their persons. Each bitter thought is an act of violence in its own right, and if allowed to run its course, some form of damage will certainly result.

This form of dangerous isolation is a type of “spiritual wilderness”—desolate territory where God appears to be absent and people uncaring. Most of us have these types of experiences to one degree or another; what marks the difference between life and death is the manner in which we process the adversity we face.

God is greater than any difficulty—even injustice—that any of us will ever face. But only those who trust Him, who learn to process their circumstances through the eye of faith, will emerge as champions over darkness and hate. No matter how bleak the horizon may appear, the eye of faith will look beyond the storm clouds to see dazzling rays of hope.

photo credit: Ashley Pollak via photopin cc
photo credit: Ashley Pollak via photopin cc

Though a wilderness experience of this sort may be nothing of our own choosing, how we process such circumstances is entirely ours. May we never forget that the sovereign Creator of the Universe is able to turn even sinful human choices toward His eternal purposes. That, after all, is one of the things that makes Him God. But what about us—will we believe?

(This post is loosely based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which is now available for sale through Amazon and through our new SfMe Media website. This site is now being phased out with this final post. All future blog entries will be posted to our new ministry website, You can subscribe by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

Something Greater than 9/11

photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc
photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc

It happens every year when the anniversary of 9/11 rolls around. I find myself wishing that those violent and horrific terrorist attacks had never happened—not only for the lives lost but because of the negative changes that have come to our world as a result of that fateful day.

It’s not that the world was necessarily a nice place before September 11, 2001, but it has definitely been even less pleasant since. Overall, from my perspective, people are less friendly, more calloused, and more fearful. I know it makes me sound old, but there are definitely times when I wish that we could return to the days of yesteryear.

photo credit: diegofornero (destino2003) via photopin cc
photo credit: diegofornero (destino2003) via photopin cc

Still, I have come to the conclusion that nothing good ever comes from fretting over the negative changes in our world. Nothing. Those who fail to adapt to change will soon find themselves mired in misery. A friend recently told me about a study that found the one common theme between people who lived to a ripe old age was their ability to adapt to change. I haven’t taken the time to verify the study, but it makes sense. Trying to hold on to what once was has a tendency to sap the vitality from even the most vibrant of people.

Isn’t it ironic that the one group of people—Christians—who should be most adept at adjusting to change is usually the first to resist anything of the sort. In part, this is because we’ve seen such a moral decline in our culture over the past 50 years. Still, something deeper is at work. We often resist change due to our shortsightedness; we don’t realize that, in most cases, change equals opportunity.

Consider, for example, the sense of anxiety and security that so many people feel in our day. Can there be a better opportunity to point them toward our Rock, the One who provides peace and security in even the worst circumstances? What about the fact that so many people are unchurched? At least these folks aren’t beset by the religiosity that has plagued the church for so long.

photo credit: faungg's photo via photopin cc
photo credit: faungg’s photo via photopin cc

Greater still, overshadowing every negative change in our world is the reality that the kingdom of God is advancing on this earth, that the time of Christ is drawing near, that each passing day brings us closer to the full revelation of our eternal hope.

There’s something exciting happening that is easily missed by the casual observer. The kingdoms of man are crumbling while the kingdom of God draws near. The kingdom of God! It’s that one and only government that can produce a truly peace-filled society. This is not a time to shrink back in fear, or to fret over things that have been lost. This is a time to lift up our heads and open our eyes to the ripening harvest around us.

If I could rewind the clock and somehow stop the events of 9/11 from happening, I most certainly would. But I can’t. Thus, I am working to accepting the realities of this world while pursuing the greater reality of God’s kingdom. For the person who loves God and seeks good, change equals opportunity. Let’s not allow it to slip through our fingers!

The Perfect Bond of Disunity

Photo by ostephy - morgueFile

I recently angered someone by a comment I made. I’m sure you’ve done it too. I certainly wouldn’t compare the experience to a pleasant summer day. More like a gray, ominous thunderhead consuming the skyline!

Ironically, my goal was to help foster a closer relationship by finally dealing with a few issues that had been simmering under the surface for years. Seemed like a reasonable idea to me. My 20-20 hindsight now tells me that in this situation my hope was nothing more than a wisp of wishful thinking.

These types of conflicts simply add more bricks to the walls that separate us from each other, but the stones that form the wall’s foundations are usually identity related, especially when cemented together by insecurity.

“And beyond all of these things put on insecurity, which is the perfect bond of disunity!” Colossians 3:14 (SCV)[1]

Why is it that so often we equate disapproval with rejection? Insecurity! Through the eyes of insecurity we view any type of disapproval as a complete rejection of our personhood. “If you don’t like something I’m doing, then it’s obvious that you don’t like me or want to be with me.”

Photo by kakisky - morgueFile

Can you imagine what the world of professional sports would look like if all athletes carried this mindset? There would be no one on the team–all of our beautiful tax payer funded stadiums would lie empty! A key factor in a player making a team is teachability. If they are willing to be corrected, they are willing to improve their game. Of course, if the game is already perfect, there can be no room for improvement.

As grown-ups can we not embrace the fact that disapproval should not be equated with rejection? I can accept you as a friend (just like I hope you would accept me) even if I disapprove of particular aspects of your behavior.

When we view ourselves through the gray lens of insecurity we simply cannot accept the specific realities of our imperfection. Oh, we might occasionally utter a general, “I’m so imperfect” sigh, but when a coach (or a leader or a friend or a family member, etc.) tries to correct something specific, it quickly becomes a threat to our fragile existence.

Small-minded, self-centered thinking keeps us from realizing that true love is bigger than our imperfections. If I can only love those who meet my standards, then I incorrectly assume that no one will love me if I don’t meet all of their standards. News flash! The kingdom of God does not operate by the same principles that drive the world around us!

Having wrestled with insecurity for much of my life, I now consider it to be a self-centered, evil force that can have no welcome place in the heart of a Christian. Insecurity, when befriended, distorts all rational and objective thought, making healthy relationships virtually impossible.

Thankfully, insecurity is not an unchangeable personality trait! The process may take time, but as we surrender our insecurities to God, He is able to build within us an unshakeable foundation for strong and healthy relationships.

[1] SCV – Self-Centered Version