Nikolas Cruz Was the Bully: Why #Walkup is the Right Thing at the Wrong Time

The WalkUp idea started with Ryan Petty a father of one of Cruz’s victims. At a press conference he encouraged students to walk up to 14 students and 3 adults and say something nice, and get to know them, instead of walking out of school for seventeen minutes. During that Press conference he also implored state legislators to do three, things all of which echoed the sentiments of the WalkOut protestors. Enhance safety and security of schools. Second, keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a risk to themselves or others. Finally state leaders must improve mental health resources for at risk youth. These are the very things that many students wrote a letter to congressmen requesting during the seventeen minutes they walked out of their school in solidarity with their peers across the country.

Take the time to read up on the accounts of Nikolas Cruz. This isn’t a story of a bullied kid handing out unmitigated retribution on his tormentors and the silent bystanders. This was a kid described as having developmental issues, and impulse control issues. Students who had tried to strike up conversations reported that he only talked about guns knives and hunting. He was known for posting videos and pictures on social media of him killing animals. The behavioral issues that led to his expulsion included threatening other students and a teacher. Not a teacher who was disciplining him but trying to help him. There was such a concern about his mental state and the threat he posed that he wasn’t even allowed to bring a backpack to school.

He wasn’t a loner because he was weird or different. He was a loner because he was dangerous. Even the most accepting of us would think twice about engaging someone like that. So why are telling kids the best response to this latest school shooting is to #walkup? Even still, at his request, Nikolas and his brother moved in with a friend’s family back in November. Clearly this was a kid who was no stranger to the kindness and generosity of others. Another student interviewed after the shooting said they had been close friends until Nikolas started going after and threatening another of his friends. WalkUp has all the feels of being an anti-bully movement, which has tremendous merit when it’s not being used to redirect civil protest and become little more than victim blaming. Under these circumstances it neglects to see that Nikolas Cruz appears to be the bully long before he became a mass murderer.

I grieve for the obvious brokenness of Nikolas. Surely he was ill-equipped to navigate the loss of both his parents by the age of 18. I simply see no link to justify an anti-bullying be nice movement in response to this because that wasn’t the issue. Especially when so many adults have resorted to bullying tactics in response to the very students who have spoken out after surviving this incident. Students that knew how dangerous he was. Some of whom notified the proper authorities when he posted that he wants to be a “professional school shooter” and nothing was done. I fear WalkUp has become just another example of adults thinking they know best and not listening to young people, particularly those who were there.

Again Cruz found pleasure in torturing and killing animals, which is a clear indicator that his lack of empathy was the issue, not his peers. The same day students were protesting demanding legislative action in the same three areas Mr. Petty spoke of, the WOOFF Act was introduced on the Senate floor in response to a dog dying in an overhead bin of a plane. It was 48 hours after the incident. Next April will be twenty years since Columbine.

I’m all for people loving one another. The core sentiments and principles of “WalkUp” are things I have practiced and preached specifically to youth in seventeen years of student ministry. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand why loving one another is linked to the greatest commandment of loving God. However, extending the hand of friendship and gestures of gratitude will not change the fact that the mentally ill and unstable (an individual who is well short of responsible), can #walkup to a gun retailer and #walkout with a gun.

#Walkout Exposes Greatest Threat to the Safety of Students… Adults

Today across the country High School students will be walking out of school for seventeen minutes to honor and memorialize the seventeen people (14 students and 3 adults) killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting massacre. It is their way of showing solidarity with those whose lives were taken exactly one month ago. It is also their way of protesting against the inaction of our nation’s politicians to enact stricter gun regulations.

As often is the case in our country’s history even the most peaceful and civil form of protest is met with fierce objection and opposition. Some school faculty and administration have threatened to take severe disciplinary action against students who participate in the “National School Walkout”. Some teachers have threatened to fail any student who walks out of their class.

Once again, as we have seen all too recently in other cases, many do not grasp one of the primary functions of peaceful protest or act of civil disobedience. One of the primary functions they serve is to expose the core character of those in power in authority. Those in power and authority are given an opportunity to demonstrate whether they will listen or silence, whether they will apprehend or guide, whether they are tyrants or servants.

Disheartening is a good way to describe the response of some adults in the lead up to this day. Disagreeing with the goals of the movement is one thing. Demonizing students who simply do not want to see another mass shooting in any school is vile and abhorrent behavior, but it is not out of the norm. Most days of the year a popular pass time amongst many adults is shaming teenagers for being self-centered, always on their phones and tablets, obsessed with curating their social media image, addicted to video games, and generally lazy and apathetic towards anything that truly matters. Now that they actually want to do something that shows solidarity with others their pawns actors and just plain spoiled uninformed brats.

If nothing else watching the way many adults have responded so toxically to the idea of students participating in a peaceful civil protest has served as a reminder of why I worked with teenagers for (ironically) 17 years.

I have lost count of how many times I was declared a saint for working with teenagers. Most of the time I found it sad in what it said they thought about teenagers. So many people couldn’t imagine spending so much time investing in students. There are a number of reasons I did it and did it for that long. So many adults think so little of them. I wanted them to know they are loved and accepted as they are while facilitating a community of their peers and other adults where they could flourish and grow. It is the same gift I was given by adults who cared for me and my peers when I was a teenager. It is the gift that so many of my peers were not given, and the absence and void it left still shows in many of them as adults.

Don’t let the divisiveness of the gun debate distract you from the point that students just want to feel safe. Right now they don’t feel safe. School shootings is one thing. The steady barrage of insults, shaming, dehumanizing and general apathy they receive from adults, even when the gun debate has simmered down, needs to stop. A gunman can taking their life is one thing. Adults decimating their soul is another.

Token Confessions Entry 1 – On This the Six Year Anniversary of the Murder of Trayvon Martin

Six years ago today Trayvon Martin was murdered on his way home from the convenience store. His death and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman was the catalyst for the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Today I am reflecting on the past six years of this social movement against anti-Black racism in light of the present gun debate we are having.

Dylan Roof and Nikolas Cruz received more restraint and strict adherence to procedural protocol after killing 26 people between the two of them than…

Tamir Rice
Philando Castile
Alton Sterling
John Crawford III

In all four of those cases (two involving toy guns) I don’t recall any pro-gun advocates or the NRA being alarmed at how quickly these individuals were killed due to them possessing a firearm, and every intermediate step of de-escalation was bypassed in favor of just shooting and killing the individual. What about their…’

Gun Rights

Black victims had their whole lives excavated in order to find cause for victim blaming. Trayvon Martin? Smoked weed, Not just any weed but allegedly chemically enhanced weed that made him aggressive. Moreover, he had recently been suspended from school. Tamir Rice was “large for his age”, and “shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun at a park”, in a city where white men flaunted their right to open carry inside of Target. Mike Brown was equated to wrestling legend Hulk Hogan or a demon, plus he had just stolen cigarillos. Philando should have just done what the officer asked. Eric Garner shouldn’t have questioned why they were messing with him over selling loose cigarettes. Nikolas Cruz and Dylan Roof on the other hand were simply…

Suffering from Mental Illness

I’m grateful that the survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas are being given a national platform to air their grievances and concerns instead of tanks, militarized riot police, and tear gas. Moreover, I doubt high schoolers across the country will be met with much more than a suspension if they stage walk outs from school. I wish the same would have opportunity for constructive dialogue before lawmakers would have been given to the teenagers and citizens of…


I agree that there needs to be more resources education and awareness on mental illness. If for no other reason so we can make a distinction between mental illness and toxic unresolved anger that grows and festers if left in isolation. I wish there was a similar push for education of…

Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery not white supremacy
Generational Poverty
The High School to Prison Pipeline
The failure of the Mass Incarceration System

And how all those things have negatively affected communities of color.

I believe most gun owners are responsible law-abiding and knowledgeable about the rights afforded them under the Second Amendment. I understand their suspicion of a slippery slope that would lead to the dismantling of their rights under the second amendment. US prison population went from 350K to over 2 mil. A disproportionate amount of them black and brown largely because of the dismantling of the…

4th Amendment
14th Amendment

But I don’t think they have to worry too much even if gun laws became a little more strict. The origins of the Second Amendment was to defend against the possible invasion of the British trying to take back the continent, and against possible insurrection of the indigenous people’s of America and West African slaves. That’s why there were so many laws prohibiting free black men from bearing arms, because the Second Amendment functionally only defended the right to bear arms for…

Land Owners (colonizers)
White Men

Over 20 million Native Americans were killed leaving only a remnant left to live on reservations, slavery was reshaped into the mass incarceration system whilst America re-segregated itself, and the Brits are welcome as tourists and green card-carrying expats. It’s no wonder the gun debate is so contentious amongst, white America because the only ones they have left to bear arms against is…

One Another

When the murderer is Muslim, America responds with a travel ban. When the murderer is Hispanic, America responds with tougher immigration laws (for those seeking to cross our southern borders) and wants to build a wall. When the murderer is Black, America responds with more police and prisons. When the murderer is White, America responds with…

Thoughts and prayers

It’s Time | Women in Church

C3ED8C30-6BCF-40A0-9424-C87ADE9A5E5DNote from the author: I wrote this post a year ago for a church blog but we decided under the circumstances that it would be best for the women to have the voice exclusively. Hear we are a year later with the Harvey Weinstein revelations and the trending of #MeToo on social media, and I thought it might be a good time to share this on my own blog site.


We have had nearly a week to process and digest the very disturbing viral video of Donald Trump describing how he knowingly and intentionally makes unwanted sexual advances against women with impunity. To say that it has triggered massive amounts of trauma developed from lived experiences of women is an understatement. The amount of energy being expended by he and others to defend what he said, or diminish his shocking confession to little more than lewd words, is confounding. All leading to the virtual dam of silence cracking at its foundation as women are telling their stories of unwanted sexual advances, sexual harassment assault and rape. History may look back on the release of that video, and see it as a tipping point in so many realms of American society. Hopefully one of the areas of our society in which it will serve as a tipping point and catalyst for long overdue change is the church.

There is so much one could say about the fact that Donald Trump has received not simply endorsements, but moral imperatives from prominent Evangelical Christian leaders and thinkers to Christians to vote for Trump (Jerry Falwell Jr., and James Dobson among them). In essence they are saying, “If you don’t vote for Trump you are sinning against God.” Some have seemingly come to their senses and issued a wholesale revoking of their endorsement of him (Wayne Grudem).

However, I believe this all says less about Trump, and less about the decline of the Religious Right, than it does something else far more significant and in need of change. I believe the past five days says so much more on how we are long over due for women to have a more prominent role, and voice in the local church and evangelical organizations. It is long past time that women truly share in the leadership and authority in the local church and evangelical organizations. It is time for the ceiling of children and women’s ministry and the mission field be removed. It is time for more churches to appoint female deacons and elders. It is time for women to be given the chance to be executive, lead and even teaching pastors.

For too long the church has demeaned the full imago dei of women because Eve listened to the serpent.

For too long we’ve been ignoring the biblical narratives of God elevating women alongside and even in front of men, not simply because there was a void of male leadership but because they were chosen by God and they were the most qualified.

For too long we’ve given women the title of director instead of pastor in fear of offending the old guard.

For too long we’ve stifled the radicalness of Jesus affirming Mary’s choice to shun the kitchen in favor of sitting at the feet of Jesus, not as some star struck groupie but as a disciple. If Jesus believed Mary could learn to do what he does, then what is stopping us from letting them do what he does (Luke 10.38-42)? In reality it shouldn’t even be an issue of giving them permission. If not are we then guilty of ignoring what Jesus says to Martha, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” If Paul believed that a new expansive understanding of how we are to see ourselves in light of the work of Christ included a loosening of conventional gender roles, “there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3.28) have we crafted a subversive gospel message for women to get them saved and keep them in their place?

I don’t say all these things and pose all these questions to sound controversial. I say them because I’m convinced that we weren’t meant to be steeped in centuries long marginalization of women in the name of patriarchy in which the church has been complicit and often taken the lead. Then it wouldn’t be so hard for us in the church to know how to respond to Trump and those who defend his demeaning of women because women who lead alongside men in the church would be right at the forefront of our response (which is why this wasn’t posted when it was originally written because we wanted the reply of women at the forefront). Their voices would be heard from the nursery and from the pulpit. Their unique stories and lived experiences would be shared in first person before communities of men and women of all ages together. It’s not too late though for us to finally begin to model in the church what Paul says in Ephesians of submitting to one another in Christ. But this I am certain, it is long past time for it to happen.

Why Black People Tend to Dance: An Apology for Cam Newton

It’s not about race in a way that makes her and others racist and hate black people. It’s about race in that so many white people either don’t and in some cases refuse to understand, and some black people have forgotten, that dancing and being loud is a part of our culture as Black Americans.


12240038_10208400423587504_2136578022119085585_nMuch of the criticism not just of this angry mother, but of those less offended by his behavior, but wishing he conducted himself differently, has centered around the opinion that Cam’s behavior, amongst other things, was lacking in class. I hear this criticism of him and other athletes, typically black athletes (not because they are black and the critic dislikes black people, but because usually black athletes are the ones celebrating by dancing and other demonstrative behavior) all the time. They would prefer, he would just hug and high five his teammates quickly, in an understated fashion, and then unassumingly jog off the field to the sidelines.

Allow me to offer this critique of the “it lacked class” criticism. This criticism often highlights the cultural differences between black and white Americans. I can hear the retort now, “Yet again! Why do you have to make it about race?” Well if you bear with me I will explain to you why it is about race but not in a “anyone who criticizes Cam is a racist” explanation. This explanation doesn’t require or ask white people to apologize for the past or recognize their “privilege”. It simply asks that people who are criticizing him for a touchdown dance, whether they be white and hearing this reasoning for the first time or black and have forgotten to consider without hearing it as an attack.

It’s not about race in a way that makes her and others racist and hate black people. It’s about race in that so many white people either don’t and in some cases refuse to understand, and some black people have forgotten, that dancing and being loud is a part of our culture as Black Americans. Culture is simply what we make of the world, both in a literal sense of making (building and creating) things, and in how we make sense of the world around us. And for black Americans dancing and celebrating is an integral part of our culture. Dancing is how we sought to make sense of the world around us. What did our ancestors make of slavery? Singing, shouting, and dancing. You need look no further than predominantly black churches the world round to see all three of those things remain embedded in our culture. We wouldn’t have survived the horrors of slavery and injustice without dancing. It’s in our blood to dance, when we’re suffering and when we celebrate, to the point that now we the sons and daughters of those people who cultivated that kind of life do it sometimes instinctively without thinking about it, or remembering why we have an urge to respond that way. Dancing and singing and shouting kept many of our ancestors from losing hope that things could get better. And praise God things have gotten better. And still we don’t or at least try not to forget where we come from, even as we try to accommodate the majority culture, thus we keep on dancing.

The late Ralph Wiley, an author, journalist and writer who was a Sports Illustrated staff writer for nine years, described this culture and reasoning better than I in his book Why Black People Tend to Shout (all this discussion about Cam inspired me to go dig the book up).

First of all, black people are too happy just being able to shout not to take advantage of the luxury. When you have to read that bits were put in some of your ancestors’ mouths, you tend to shout. When a sweet grandmotherly sort has to tell you how black people once were chained in iron make in the canebrake, to keep them from eating the cane while they harvested it, and that these masks were like little ovens that cooked the skin off their faces–when you hear that grandmotherly voice and realize she once was a girl who might have been your girl, and someone caused this pain on her lips and nobody did anything about it but keep living–this gives you a tendency to shout,

Black American culture is a byproduct of the great grandchildren of the tribal African culture. A culture that danced to celebrate life, danced boys into manhood, danced the betrothed into matrimony, and danced the fallen into the afterlife.
So now when someone like Cam gets criticized and told “show a little class”, it’s like being told to assimilate. When someone like Cam is told they find his dancing in that moment offensive (all the while half naked cheerleaders are shaking what they mama gave em) it’s like being told, “we find your culture offensive”. And we find it slightly ironic that so much of our shouting singing and dancing, in the form of folk, blues, rhythm and blues, hip hop and rap music, has been copied had a white face slapped on it and sold to the masses for a profit, but it’s somehow offensive when we do it.

When someone like Cam is told to “grow up” in response to him pointing after a first down, it’s like being told to forget where you came from, or to get over it. If you’ve heard a word of what I’ve just said then you’ll know, maybe for the first time, that dancing is how we got over.

When we hear someone say “I miss the old days when guys just played the game the right way without all the theatrics”, we hear you want things to be the way they were before the color barrier, or more accurately put the unwritten “gentlemen’s agreement” policy, in sports being broken and required a subdued and suppressed black man to break it. Jackie Robinson is an American hero and is the most courageous man that ever competed in modern sports, but he was chosen over the likes of Josh Gibson and Satchel Page because Branch Rickey believed Jackie he could subdue his need to dance and shout. Muhammad Ali is considered the greatest athlete ever by most Black Americans because he dared to dance shout and rap inspiring Black Americans who had despite their assimilating efforts been kept separate and unequal to start dancing again.

When someone like Cam is told “act like you’ve been here before” we know he is doing it because we have been there.

Removing the Flag Is Good But Does Little to Create Real Community

“Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community” Georges Erasmus


I first heard the above quote during a presentation done by Mark Charles at Q Conference in Boston this past April. Mark was making the case that Americans will continue to have racial tension as long as we all continue to operate from a different a memory and different pasts. It’s really sad to think that it required 9 people being murdered by a racist white supremacist for us to finally reach a point where are beginning to take the steps necessary to have a common memory of our history as Americans, black, white, and everything in between.


While I fully support the removal of the Confederate/Rebel Flag from the grounds of state capitals, I fear this will cause us to prematurely think our work is done. Those flags will be removed from our public places, but our real problem is not that flag although the debate surrounding it is indicative of our true problem. One symbol stirs feelings of pride from a shared heritage for one group of people stirs feelings of trauma from a shared suffrage for another.


We do not have a common memory and we do not share in the same past. For White Americans their collective memory and past is one of conquest, colonization, freedom, and “God’s blessing”. For ethnic minorities, particularly Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, collective memory and past is one filled with trauma from the struggle to be recognized as human and treated with dignity and equality. Our collective memory is filled with dehumanization, enslavement, mass genocide, demonization and marginalization. For white peoples in this country it has truly been a dream. For black and brown peoples in this country that dream has almost always been a nightmare over the 400 plus years since the early colonies. “Manifest Destiny” destined those deemed savages and beasts to destruction and to the margins of our country.



As difficult as it might be, white people need to start listening to the memories and the past of the ethnic minorities in America. It won’t be easy. It will be hard to believe for no other reason than so much of it is omitted from the majority of our history books. History has always been written by and representative of those who are one of the majority and elite. If we want real healing then the parallel narrative of the marginalized must be heard. It must be written. It must be taught. It will expose the blind-spots you didn’t know were there in our past as a nation. Black people, Hispanics, and Native-Americans need to remember that white people are hearing these stories, memories and past for the first time. They are being asked to look at parts of our history through our eyes, and if they really see it it will strike at their heart. Hearing about it for the first time will be traumatic for them and we need to extend them grace. We need to assure them of our sincerity in informing them is not to guilt or shame them, not to demand an apology, not to seek reparations. We need to show them the compassion we’ve so desperately needed to heal. In this way we can all heal together, and truly have community without losing ethnic and cultural identities.


The debate raging on social media over the Confederate/Rebel Flag and its possible removal caused one of my white friends to do some research into the history of the flag.  She described having a traumatic experience. She grew up in the south with that flag being flown everywhere, and was told the same as so many others of it being a symbol of their heritage as southerners. What she found was a gapping blind spot into the history of how that flag quickly became a symbol of white supremacy and hate as its re-designer William T Thompson intended. Her words to me over the phone illustrate what so many are experiencing, “I have been grieved to my heart since finding out the history around that flag.” If I had responded with a flippant “well duh, where have you been” attitude it wouldn’t have been helpful. No more or less helpful than when I’ve shared more stories and memories of what it’s like to be black in America and it is met with accusations of playing the race card, or attempts to explain it away.


The flag should be removed from the grounds of state capitals, and states who integrated it into their state flag need to get it out.  However, if that is all we do then we will fall desperately short of what is necessary for real community to happen that transcends race and ethnicity. We need to teach both narratives in our history books in our schools and places of higher learning. The history of our nation needs to be taught through the eyes of both the elite and the marginalized. I am not suggesting that we throw out one narrative and replace it with the other. Rather they should be part of one comprehensive telling of our history, of our past, and shape a shared memory, so we can move forward into the future not separate but together.

We Can No Longer Be Apathetic Towards Racism

I find it ironic and not at all surprising that many media outlets are pointing to drug reform (which isn’t a bad idea) in the wake of yet another mass shooting murderer who was on some sort of prescription drugs (as well as possibly some illegal ones) in a subtle attempt to make drugs some sort of scapegoat by pointing away from the indoctrinated hate that filled his heart and mind. Ironic and not surprising that when Trayvon Martin’s toxicology report turned up marijuana it wasn’t to weave a narrative of the need for drug reform, it was to prove he was a bad apple and a danger to civilized law abiding citizens. Ironic and not surprising that in less than 24 hours of his death pictures of Mike Brown playing cards, holding a wad of cash, gun on the table, and smoking marijuana wasn’t to weave a narrative of the need for drug reform. It was to prove he was bad apple and a danger to civilized law abiding citizens. Oh yeah, and it wasn’t even him in the picture it was someone else. When given the same circumstances or worse with white criminals of the most hate filled crimes (see Aurora and Newton) we find a way to somehow paint a picture of them being the victims of mental illness and poor FDA regulations.

You can accuse me of playing the race card. You can tell me you’re tired of all the talk about race its about people (to which I’d tell you to tell Dylann Roof that. Tell his friends who thought all his racial slurs and comments were merely jokes and hyperbole). You can tell me I’m just creating more division (which makes no logical sense because you don’t cause division by pointing to it, you just make people who are comfortable with it uncomfortable). You can tell me that now is the time to mourn for the 9 slain in Charleston, SC. I tell you this is part of the mourning. I mourn that our society and culture continues to weave a racist lite propaganda demonizing black people in the most subtle of ways and then is shocked and surprised when someone actually buys it and walks into a church and before unleashing Hell on earth tells nine people, among them a state Senator four reverends, a barber, a grandmother, “I have to do it. You rape our women and are taking over OUR country. You have to go.”

We, you and me (that’s right me too) are complicit in keeping racism alive and well as long as we continue to bury our heads in the sand about the evil and decay of even our subtle forms of racism in this country simply because it makes us uncomfortable. We are not uncomfortable enough and our mourning achieves little if we refuse to act.