The Snow Made Me Do It

In 2021, three people died because snow had piled up in their driveways.

That’s the story.

Or is it?

Here is the ABC News version of what happened, which also raises as many questions as it answers. [I also watched the security video of the event, but I won’t put that link here because it depicts gun violence which I will not glorify. I watched it in order to understand more of how the event could have taken place].

Before analyzing this event any further, let’s address a key objection in examining the rationale for violent crimes. People criticize psychologists for trying to determine the reasons someone committed a crime. They feel this will be used as a pretext for excusing their criminal behavior. The reasoning is that no one should spend any time trying to understand a criminal. The full focus of understanding should only be on the victims, not the perpetrators.

But is this a healthy approach for modern society to take?

In seeking to understand why anyone can commit a violent crime, social science attempts to delve into the mindset that results in people being hurt. If crimes were only committed by gangs, organized crime, or “evil” people, the search for meaning behind crimes would be a wasted effort.

As social scientists have looked deeply into crime statistics worldwide, here is what they found:

  • The majority of violent crimes are committed by males (90%)
  • The majority of violent crime victims are male (80%)
  • 50% of violent crimes are committed by organized crime members
  • 50% of violent crimes are committed in relation to domestic disputes

Too much of the study involving violent crime and the policing of it has focused on the gang type violence. Not enough has gone into discovering what causes the average person to become violent. I think this is more intriguing and holds the answer to solutions to some of crime’s origins.

I’m a trauma therapist. My job is to delve into the parts of the psyche that cause people to manifest the type of behavior and thoughts which cause problems. One of the tools I use in pursuit of accomplishing this job is called Internal Family Systems. In this therapy approach, we believe the mind is an amalgam of many Parts. These parts each have their jobs and every part functions mainly to protect the individual. Parts like Anxiety, Shame, Depression, Justice, Fear of Rejection, Abandonment, Rage seem to have their own agendas based on the roles we originally gave them. Many of these roles began in childhood. Some of the roles are grounded in traumatic experiences.

Back to the violent snow story. The facts are simple: A single male neighbor lived across the narrow lane from a married couple. Every time it snowed, the couple would shovel the snow from their driveway in front of the driveway of the single man. Over time, this became the basis for their animosity toward each other.

On the day of the murders, the couple did the same thing after a snowfall. The single man happened to be home. He came out and started to shout at them. The two men started to exchange angry words filled with expletives. The longer this went on, the woman also began to shout at her neighbor. The addition of her voice seemed to enrage the single man who retreated into his home at one point.

That’s when he emerged with a gun.

He slowly walked over to the woman and shot her several times. From the video, it is clear this is either a pellet or bb gun, for she doesn’t seem to be seriously hurt by the shots. But the more he shoots, she begins to react physically to the pain. Her husband runs over and the single man shoots him several times as well. They are both left bleeding on the ground. As I watched it, they were moving freely, suggesting they were not seriously hurt.

A minute later, the single man walks out of his house with a different gun. This one is larger and looks more lethal. In fact, he walks over to the woman and shoots her once, killing her. He also shoots the husband. Then, he calmly walks back into his house.

According to the story in the news account, when the police arrived at the scene, they went to the shooter’s house and knocked on the door. That’s when they heard a gunshot. He killed himself before they could enter and arrest him.

Some will watch this video and just shake their heads at the bizarre nature of this violence. Who gets this upset about snow? Who reacts to an argument by getting two different guns to take down their neighbors? Why were they all acting badly in the first place?

As a trauma therapist, my questions are different. What parts of their protective psyche were activated in this scene? What parts had been active in the months prior? As we have analyzed young men who commit multiple murders, we note mitigating factors such as bullying, isolation, or injustice in their background. Are these events what cause a person’s psyche to create violent parts that need to hurt others?

And why do some people create these violent parts to protect themselves and other people do not? This we cannot answer. Every person’s internal system is created differently and uniquely. Many people are bullied in school, but very few come back and shoot up the school with automatic weapons. Why do more men create parts that feel the need to retaliate violently than women do?

This year in America (2022), we have had more than 600 mass shootings. All 600 have been committed by men. Why men? We do not have an answer for this. But the question must be asked. And, in order for the answers to be helpful, we must answer the question with as few preconceptions and biases as possible.

I don’t know why these people were in a dispute about snow. But I guarantee their disregulated internal reactions had little to do with snow. Their parts were convinced this snow dispute encompassed larger principles. Perhaps one or all of these people had been abused as children and felt power taken away from them. Perhaps one or all of them had witnessed their own parents react with violence toward neighbors or relatives. Perhaps one or all of them had a fear of other people taking advantage of them because it happened to them when they were young.

There are reasons we create the protective parts inside of us.

I remember as a boy being surrounded by six older boys, tied up and beaten underneath the bridge near our house. That immobilization for years brought blind rage inside of me when someone would hold me down or cause me to feel panic.

This emerged my first year of college. The guys who lived on my dorm floor decided to attack the floor above us in a pillow fight. We thought about going room to room pummeling them with pillows. But someone had tipped them off. When I lead the charge up the back stairs, I came around the corner on their floor and was set upon by ten guys with pillows. My floor-mates got away but I didn’t. They beat on me for a minute or so.

There was no real pain. But the panic got a hold of me. I dropped my pillow and started to punch and kick the two guys closest to me.

I’ll spare you the details. As a result of my actions, I was suspended from classes for several days. I could not believe I had become that violent. But now that I work with people who have these kind of parts, I recognize that a Protector broke through to keep me “safe” and could not see that there is any difference between a pillow and fists.

I wonder what might have happened if I had access to a gun?

I also wonder what might have happened with the snow shovel people if no guns had been available. I speculate we may never have heard of them. I challenge anyone reading this to begin looking beyond the headlines these days. What makes people so protective of themselves? What would it take for you to lose control and have your internal Protectors take over?

What makes any of us have such bizarre reactions when we feel insecure or attacked?

Featured

Why I Will Never Be an Evangelical or Charismatic Again.

I had been pastor of this church in Northwest Montana for only six months. I took one Sunday off to go back to British Columbia for the weekend to pack up my house we owned there to prepare for moving. Through a friend, I had arranged for a professional singer/preacher to do his thing at the church in my absence. He had good credentials from people I trust.

A week after finishing my move to Montana, an older couple in the church asked if they could go to lunch with me. They seemed nice and my schedule wasn’t overwhelmed yet, so I agreed.

We made pleasant small talk and I started to get to know them. There was definitely something off about both of them. They told me about moving to Montana from Missouri to escape the thug elements of their town. I had no idea what they were talking about. I learned very quickly as they moved to the true reason for this lunch.

“Pastor Mike, I’m sure you didn’t know the guy who spoke a couple of weeks ago. I know you didn’t. There is no way you would have condoned him” the husband began. His wife, who had been smiling sweetly a moment before had a sour face. They were together on this one.

“What happened? I asked.

“You didn’t hear? It is an absolute scandal. I’m surprised the elders haven’t called a special meeting.”

“What on earth did he do?” I was worried he may have committed something heretical.

“You don’t know? Oh my lord. He was Black! A black man speaking in our church. I’ve been talking to everyone since it happened and there is a lot of talk going on.”

I was temporarily frozen in my chair. I wasn’t afraid at all. I was seething with intense anger and I was afraid I was going to do something I would regret. And, I was afraid I wouldn’t do something I would regret.

I stood up. My plate was only half finished, but I was done.

“Lunch is over. I want you to know I consider both of you horrible racists, and I will do everything in my power to see you removed from the membership of the church. Do not EVER set foot in our church again.”

They never did. People revealed to me later that this couple had talked to them and most were embarrassed by the conversations. Montana has very few People of Color. There is an endemic racism there like most states. But the average person hides it better than the couple who met me for lunch.

This was my first foray into this kind of racism. That is not to say that Canadians aren’t racist. We are. But you don’t see it this blatantly. It opened my eyes not just to a different country that I was now living in, but a different church I was now a part of. It is one of the things that I have noticed about the evangelical and charismatic churches in America. There is something going on that is weird. And I couldn’t put my finger on it then.

But I can now. And I am doing that here.

Many of you reading this allowed me to be your pastor. That was something I cherished. Therefore, you need to hear it from me before hearing it from anyone else. I may still be friends with some of you, but I do not identify with either the Evangelical or Charismatic movements any longer. And I haven’t for awhile. But this week’s horrible act at the Capitol convinced me I have to publicly announce where I stand.

I still believe the theological basics of both groups. But I can’t tolerate either movement any longer. I have taught in evangelical/charismatic churches for 36 years. I taught at over 200 conferences, seminars, schools, and training retreats. I have sat on boards of evangelical organizations, been at the head of movements, and participated in both healthy and very unhealthy meetings. I have not seen it all, but I have seen enough to know I am accurate in what I’m going to report here.

The American versions of Evangelical church and Charismatic church are not godly and not where I can go.

The American versions of Evangelical church and Charismatic church are not godly and not where I can go. Click To Tweet

And let’s dispense with the “Not All” fallacy at this point. Every time a legitimate criticism is leveled against any group, gender, party, religion, institution, etc., someone will always point out that not everyone is involved in that error. Though that is always true, it is also an attempt to divert from the point. You may read what I’m writing here and say “but not all Evangelicals do that”. Yes, but enough do all these things that I feel confident in lumping the entire movement in with these errors.

Since 81% of evangelicals promoted a maniacal man for President, and based it on the beliefs I outline below, I feel confident lumping in the entire movement together.

Notwithstanding that, here are the many reasons why I will no longer call myself part of Evangelicalism.

  1. Endemic Racism: Every level of American society is affected by the decision to make slaves a part of American culture since its beginning. Regardless of whether you accept Critical Race Theory, everyone has to admit that the vast majority of black individuals grew up in poverty and will live their entire lives in poverty. They will live in fear of the police, and will receive only token support in their efforts to change things. As I have observed, white evangelicals will be “nice” to people of color but will do nothing to change the culture so the disparity can end. Since slavery started in America, the church has openly and tacitly approved of it. It is not enough to say “but I have some black friends.” The church is historically guilty of even finding doctrinal reasons to promote slavery. And though the doctrines on slavery have formally changed, nothing substantial is being done by evangelicals to enact reparations.
  2. Christian Nationalism: The evangelical church (I am including charismatics in this as I don’t want to have to keep typing both), is intricately tied to the notion that God chose America to be the greatest nation in the world, a so called “City on a Hill”. Read any book by Eric Metaxas or others, and you can see this outlined. Most evangelical leaders with few exception, teach their church that country, the flag, patriotism etc. are godly attributes. God supposedly loves America and has chosen her to fulfill a manifest destiny as part of his plan. This is why God approves of our military, our wars, our way of life, our political system, our leaders. They will say that God chooses our leaders.

    Everything other nations do is criticized. And yet when America does the same thing, it is excused. Our soldiers executed an entire village of My Lai in Vietnam and christian leaders did all they could to excuse the behavior and justify it. If planes fly into the World Trade Center it is terrorism. If drones destroy thousands of lives in the mountains of Afghanistan in order to kill 20 terrorists, it is justified.

    The church will listen to whomever promises to “Make America Great Again.” Even though we are told explicitely in the bible to pledge our allegiance to no one but God, the church has made patriotism its great unspoken doctrine. Our nation is not evil; believing we are called by God above other nations is.

    I just can’t do it any more. Trump won you over by making grandiose promises of American greatness. You think he accomplished that when he removed us from treaties with other countries, when he blocked non-whites from coming into the country, when he said we would not participate in climate change preparation.
  3. Christians Support of Guns and Violence: If you have ever heard me speak, it should be clear that I am a Pacifist. I am not passive–these words do not mean the same thing. I do not believe any person should be killed by another person. Ever. I don’t think children should be killed if they are viable in birth. I don’t think criminals should be killed. I do not think we should go to war and kill. I especially don’t think you should kill another person because you’re afraid of them.

    You don’t have to agree with that. But in my 30 years in America, I note your obsession with guns. You have to have them in your nightstand for “protection”…even though it has been shown that you are more likely to be killed with your own gun that to kill an intruder. And I find this obsession with guns goes along with this false belief that Christians have to be tough and macho.

    Donald Trump knew this. At his rallies, he attacks those who are weak, and makes heroes out of those who are violent and merciless. He criticized the handicapped as weak, he vilified prisoner-of-war John McCain as the greatest loser because he got captured. On the other side, he paraded an openly racist Sheriff of one small town (Joe Arpaio) for all to see and hear because he practiced racial profiling. When the sheriff was arrested for contempt of court, Donald Trump pardoned him.

    Evangelicals and charismatics want to be warriors, soldiers for Jesus. You can leave me out of it.
  4. Assuming to Be a Christian Means You are Anti-Choice: Billy Graham was pro-choice for most of his career. So were many leaders within evangelicalism, including W. A. Criswell, Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist of Dallas. That is, until 1980. Then, evangelical leaders made a deal with the Repubican Party. They would make “pro-life” the evangelical thing and Republicans would support their anti-choice agenda.

    They did this despite the fact that the Bible says virtually nothing about abortion, and nothing definitive about when life begins. I am pro-life…I don’t broach taking any life…but I also believe that we have never defined that life begins at conception, either medically or theologically. Christians adopted this stance to get political control, and that is all it is for. Before the 1970s, very few people in churches even knew what it meant to be Pro-life.

    You don’t think these mega-pastors care about little babies do you? They don’t even allow them in the sanctuary when they’re preaching.

    An evangelical church that purports to be against abortion should be very much in favor of birth control. And caring for poor women who are the predominant ones who have abortions for financial reasons. And setting up better systems for childcare for working single mothers. Churches put almost NO effort into these things and teach actively against birth control for singles.

    Trump knew that promising to support wee babies in the womb would guarantee the vote. Other than putting conservatives on the Supreme Court (which will likely do nothing to make abortions illegal), he did NOTHING for the unborn or the families of the poor. But that wasn’t the point for him or evangelicals. It was about controlling the voting bloc. If conservatives and conservative christians were all that effective at curbing abortion, why is it that abortion rates have fallen much more in Democratic Presidencies than Republican? Because Democrats teach birth control and care for the medical needs of the poor.
  5. Passive and Active Contempt for Women, LGBTQ, Immigrants, and Victims of Sexual Assault: This was the clincher for me. And it still shocks me. I spent the past 30 years counseling victims of sexual abuse in churches and in church organizations. I have met with over 200 of them. In all but two cases, the churches either tried to cover up the abuse, or claim it didn’t happen, or force the victims to apply grace and forgiveness to the crime.

    And this applies even more to well-known evangelicals. Men like Ravi Zacharias, Bill Hybels, Bill Gothard, and Andy Savage were all protected and defended by their churches after assaulting victims. Pastors such as Paige Patterson, C J Mahaney, and Matt Chandler covered up abuse they knew about.

    And then, after all that–which goes back decades and decades in evangelicalism–they have the audacity to say that women cannot be preachers and leaders in the church because they’re too weak. They have the temerity to claim that the LGBTQ individuals in the church are disqualified just for who they are, and that immigrants belong on the mission field and we need to build a wall to keep them out. Over 80% of evangelicals supported the building of the wall. At the same time, they send missions teams to Mexico in the greatest show of ironic hypocrisy I’ve ever witnessed.

    Trump knew all of that as well and he appealed to white male egos. The pastors as a large bloc touted him as God’s man for this hour. Hundreds of so-called charismatic prophets still claim God showed them he will be in the White House for a second term. And even though they have been shown to be wrong, most of them will not change their minds or repent.

    More than anything, I cannot stand all the duplicity of claiming that white males are to lead the church when most of the egregious behavior has been by white males.

    Considering all of this, and seeing what it culminated with at the Capitol last week, I see no reason whatsoever to align myself with the culture or community of evangelicals or charismatics.

Why I Work with Sex Offenders

This short article is part rant and part catharsis.

A common question I am asked is how I can be an advocate for those who have been horribly victimized in sexual assault and child sexual abuse, and also be a therapist for sex offenders.

Isn’t this, at the very least, a conflict of interest? Shouldn’t there be a separation of duties where one therapist focuses completely on one group, and a different therapist works with the other group?

I don’t see it that way. Please keep an open mind and heart.

In 1984, I was finishing up courses in abnormal psychology with Northwest Baptist College and University of British Columbia. As part of my study, I had to do an internship in related fields. Since one of those fields was sexual deviance, I enrolled in one of the programs the Province of British Columbia offered. I lived in a remote region of Eastern B.C. They were giving paid internships to anyone willing to work with men who had been incarcerated as sex offenders.

For six months, I met with seven different men. All of them had been convicted as child molesters. In addition, I also did case study interviews with three more men who were spending the remainder of their lives in jail for molesting children. One of those men had admitted to over 250 molestations; he kept a journal of all of it. That journal was the basis for his life conviction.

Continue reading “Why I Work with Sex Offenders”

A Century of Trauma
Part One: What We Are Facing

†

I am not slamming the Greatest Generation–or anyone else. This is a retrospective on what brought America, and its institutions, to the emotional crisis we are facing today. Click To Tweet

In 1998, the broadcaster Tom Brokaw published one of the most significant cultural books of the 20th century. He called it “The Greatest Generation”. It told the story of a generation of men and women who survived the Great Depression and then immediately went on to fight and win in World War II. There are many things I could quote from that book, but here is one which summarizes his thesis:

“There on the beaches of Normandy I began to reflect on the wonders of these ordinary people whose lives were laced with the markings of greatness….when they returned home,they married in record numbers and gave birth to another distinctive generation, the Baby Boomers. They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.”

Brokaw wrote these 464 pages to pay tribute to the bravery, sacrifice, and solid principles lived out by the survivors of that generation. There is one glaring problem with the book though. It only tells one side of the story.

And the other side of the story is dark and ominous.

In this article, I am not slamming the Greatest Generation–or anyone else. This is a retrospective on what brought America, and its institutions, to the emotional crisis we are facing today. We are identifying sexual abuse, sexual assault, leadership abuse, and significant trauma by victims in every corner. Some are asking if the Millennial generations are over-reacting or if things have gotten worse.

The primary thing I want the reader to know by the end of this study is that what we are experiencing now is hopefully the final season of healing for almost 100 years of PTSD as a nation.


Let’s begin again with Brokaw and his own words. In this video, he is remarking on people’s reaction to his book. One grown daughter of a WW2 veteran says this, “As I read your book, I realized that I never really knew or understood my father.”

I have heard this story too often in counseling. It is not just younger generations saying it;  I hear it from baby boomers who grew up with parents of the Greatest Generation. Here are the most common observations of those parents:

  • I never really knew them
  • They seemed distant
  • They were cruel, angry, and hurtful
  • They seemed locked into their own world
  • They weren’t very affectionate.

What caused the Greatest Generation to react this way? 

I contend they are not the only generation that has manifested strange and harmful behavior to their children. I believe that harmful and destructive behavior has been on display in American families for several generations. Where did this all start?

I believe it began with the 1st World War. The soldiers returning home from the war brought devastating post-traumatic stress with them. And this was never diagnosed. And if it was diagnosed, it was called something different. And then it wasn’t treated properly.

Long before the effects of this world war began to wear off, the entire nation entered into a brutal Depression. This Depression caused PTSD through hunger, danger, malnutrition, familial suicide ideation, alcohol abuse and many other reactions. 

Then, before this trauma could be processed and treated, the second World War happened. The effects of this, as I will show, were even more devastating than the first war. Within a generation of the first wave of trauma-recovery, an even bigger double wave came made up of survivors of the Depression and WW2.

Before the country had any chance of recovering from the effects of WW2–which we will describe in the next article–the Korean War happened. Then, before the effects of that war had diminished, the Vietnam War took place. There are many trauma scholars who feel the Vietnam War may have been the most devastating of them all in terms of its effects on the American family.

So now, from WW1 to the end of the Vietnam War, three straight generations of Americans had to cope with the effects of trauma. That is when we had hoped for a lull in the activity. But, by the time the Baby Boomers were entering adulthood, the Vietnam vets had all returned and were affecting their families with all the devastation of the other wars. The Baby Boomers experienced what is known as Secondary PTSD which can be almost as life-threatening as primary PTSD. 

Before a generation passed, the nation endured two Gulf Wars, the nationwide horror of 9-11, and one of the most prolonged recessions in American history. We add a fourth generation of PTSD to the mix. 

Thus, it would be proper to understand how trauma effects a person, that person’s family, and the culture which has to embrace it.


According to the book “Trauma-informed Care in the Behavioral Sciences”, trauma, 

including one-time, multiple, or long-lasting repetitive events, affects everyone differently. Some individuals may clearly display criteria associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but many more individuals will exhibit resilient responses or brief subclinical symptoms or consequences that fall outside of diagnostic criteria. The impact of trauma can be subtle, insidious, or outright destructive. How an event affects an individual depends on many factors, including characteristics of the individual, the type and characteristics of the event(s), developmental processes, the meaning of the trauma, and sociocultural factors.

Chapter 3 – Understanding the Impact of Trauma
Before a generation passed, the nation endured two Gulf Wars, the nationwide horror of 9-11, and one of the most prolonged recessions in American history. We add a fourth generation of PTSD to the mix.  Click To Tweet

Literally hundreds of books have been written to chronicle the possible effects of trauma. But, for the sake of this article, I want to highlight some of the most common ones which have affected families in America, and therefore, America as an entire society.

Look at this list, and see if you can figure out how this may have changed the very nature of the American family.

Trauma can cause:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Family violence
  • Sexual violence
  • Emotional dysregulation. This can result in emotional outbursts, completely shut down emotional response (known as Flat Affect), shame, sadness, out-of-control anger, panic attacks, and paranoia.
  • Body reactions, such as autoimmune responses, weakness, proneness to injury, injuries that won’t heal, back pain, migraines, digestive problems, heart problems, sexual dysfunction, neurological disorders, etc.
  • Sleep disorders
  • Schizo-affective reactions
  • General distrust toward people

Scan that list and ask yourself this question: If this trauma is not treated, how would it affect the family of the person who suffers the effects of trauma.

In the next article, we will explore the ways that trauma was perceived and dealt with by the four generations since 1914.

The Six Stages of Deconstruction

(This 2004 article appeared in its original form on the MTPastor blogger site I used to manage. The number of people experiencing Deconstruction has greatly increased since then. I decided it could use an overhaul).


“Tearing things apart is a powerful aspect of human nature.”

–Patti Smith

Greg and I had gone to high school together. We attended the same church and youth group. We graduated Bible College together and were ordained within a few months of each other. We genuinely liked each other.

So why did I want to punch him in the face?

I was just beginning to Deconstruct.

It was 1983 and my wife and I were at the national Congress of our Canadian denomination. The big issue being debated was whether women would be allowed to serve as pastors and elders in churches. For two years I had passionately advocated for full inclusion of women into ministry leadership positions. I had done my homework and was ready with all the theological arguments. I was ready to tear down the arguments of the Complementarians. I was even the person who brought the proposal to the committee which introduced the measure.

I had no idea Greg would make a complete ass of himself. I had no idea it would throw me into such an emotional tailspin.

He didn’t address the doctrinal issues. He didn’t appeal to historical precedent or denominational practices. He simply said: “Everyone here knows if we do this it will tear apart the church and God’s judgment will come on us all.”

With that, he was able to sway enough people to defeat the motion.

At that moment, I wrestled with whether to leave that denomination. They had already refused to ordain my wife at the same time as me the summer before. I had thought I would quit then, but she talked me out of it. When two of my close female friends from college had moved to a different denomination so they would be allowed to preach, I wondered why I was staying. Again, my wife talked me out of leaving.

When Greg used his scare tactic to convince thousands to make this decision, I actually decided to stay. But I was no longer, in my mind, part of the mainstream. I was tearing down the “good old boy, just stick with the majority” approach.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning what it means to deconstruct. Continue reading “The Six Stages of Deconstruction”