Monthly Archives: October 2015

Masculinity That’s More Than Just An Image

  

  
While reading an article on masculine identity recently, I was treated to a fascinating comparison of two presidents: Theadore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge. President Theadore Roosevelt was a genuine cowboy. He was a Rough Rider that charged up San Juan Hill and a rancher in the Dakotas. Through and through, he embodied a sort of genuine masculinity in everything from his hobbies, relationships, parenting style, intellectual pursuits, and approach to leadership. He lived during a time when the nation was wild and untamed, and the masculine ideal in western civilization was also still largely wild and untamed. 3 decades after Teddy’s years in office, Calvin Coolidge was president during a time when the culture yearned for a return to the masculinity of yesteryear, which led to a nostalgic revival of cowboys and western lore. The problem was that it wasn’t real. Attached is a picture of Teddy the cowboy and Calvin the cowboy. One of these things is not like the other. The image of masculinity is not actual manliness. Regardless of how well-dressed Calvin was, he wasn’t a cowboy. Similar phenomena can be seen today as men try to look the part, talk the part, and act the part – without ever actually fitting the part. The ideal of manliness has grown indistinct and young men carry with them a sort of insecurity about their identity as men. This is the crisis of modern man.

   
 

The Bible offers a clear picture of what God intended men to look, act, and be like. Paul tells us that Jesus is the full stature of mature masculinity. He was selfless, quick to action, principled, wise, a servant, loving, and courageous. In Christ, men are given an objective to aim for. The biggest problem we encounter with this definition is that it’s too big. I recently read a series of articles on how the ideal women of Proverbs 31 is terrible and demoralizing because it is perfection beyond attaining, sorta like trying to match the airbrushed beauty of a Cosmo cover girl. The same can be true for men. We are called to aspire to be like the son of God, the perfect man. The task seems almost too great, like attempting to swallow the sea in one gulp. However, we are given a few things that help us in that process. First, in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we can find new life, freely given, that makes us new. We are new men if we are in Christ. Beyond being new creations, we are given the Holy Spirit who reshapes us. We are in the constant process of being remade as we follow Jesus. God helps us become new. A final major gift that God gives us in the process of becoming men like Jesus is in His word. Jesus not only offers us his perfect example, he also gives us his teachings through the scriptures. God’s word gives us simple, easy teachings and directions. I don’t care for reading the instructions when taking on new things, but this is worth the effort. 

The first simple list I think is worth considering as a man pursuing a life like Jesus’ is found at the end of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. Paul spends most of the letter answering questions that he had received in a letter from the church. He ends the letter with a set of instructions on various issues. Sandwiched between two paragraphs regarding mutual friends is 2 verses of instruction: 

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

This short list reflects the basic task of Christian men in the basic work of being men like Jesus. Though the list is short, it takes place at the end of a long letter and is a reflection of the larger content of the letter. In the coming days, I’ll unpack each of these simple directions:

  1. Be watchful
  2. Stand firm in the faith
  3. Act like men
  4. Be strong
  5. Let all that you do be done in love.

This is by no means the only set of instructions given in the scriptures. However, it is a good place to start because it is all encompassing. 

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Growing Up To Be Like Jesus 10/3/15


I’m not an athlete. In high school, I lettered in competitive public speaking. As a kid, my idea of a workout was changing extra channels on the remote. I was marathon watching television shows before Netflix marathons were invented. All of my years of non-athleticism culminated in a glorious moment when I stood in the path of Dave during a pickup football game behind the library one afternoon in college. Dave had been named the hardest hitting football player in the state of Michigan before coming to the small private college where we were playing ball. Dave took the ball and ran right up the middle. I planted my feet and stared Dave down as he charged at me. Several moments later I was on my back and Dave was somewhere downfield. I had pretty much no chance of stopping him because he was fit, strong, and an experienced football player. I wasn’t any of those things. There’s an important lesson here. I wasn’t prepared to stop Dave. Had I done the work to grow in stature and prepared for the momen,t I would certainly have done a better job of standing firm in the moment. As Alexander Graham Bell once said: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” 

Of course, this sports moment doesn’t matter much. However, the lesson behind the experience is worth learning. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul describes the various gifts that believers receive from the Spirit in order to mature and prepare the church to stand firm in the faith. He explains that the various leadership roles, like pastors, teachers, and evangelists, are there to train the church. At its core, training the church involves training individuals to help them grow to spiritual maturity. The church and God’s people are to constantly train and grow to become solid and mature. When difficulty, temptation, persecution, hardship, or anything else come at us, we are to be prepared to plant our feet and stand our ground. This is the product of spiritual maturity. Which begs the question: What does this spiritual maturity look like? Paul answers the question in 4:13: 

…till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ… 

Simply put, the church grows in its resemblance to and imitation of Christ. This is the goal. Jesus is the ultimate man, who all men should aim to resemble in their lives and lifestyles. His life and teachings are the model we’re to imitate. The job of teachers, preachers, and leaders is to help the people of God grow to be like Jesus by discipling them. 

Paul goes on to explain that once this discipleship is completed: 

…we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ… (4:14-15)

Paul’s letter focuses on causes of division and the need for believers to live righteously before God. For men, this means that living out our masculinity means becoming the kind of man who shows Jesus to others through his words and actions. Men should aim to act and speak like Jesus. They should be firm in doing so, not stumbling or inconsistent. This is no small task and cannot be accomplished alone. It requires that men who desire to grow to be like Christ to enter into the task of discipleship, or rather, training for Christ-like living. It is a daily, conscious effort to grow. 

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Acting Like Men, Dreaming Like Boys

The following is my newspaper column from this week. I do not normally post material I have published in other media (at least not without significant rewriting!). This seems like it was worth sharing. Let me know what you think. It appeared in the Big Sandy Mountaineer 9/30/15.

IMG_8051My 2-year old boy has a cold and was very cranky this morning. My wife and I tried all sorts of things to soothe him with little success until I pulled out a box of Star Wars toys and settled on the kitchen floor to play with him.

He wasn’t content to play with me in any other setting or with any other toys, but the Star Wars toys captured his attention. Within a few minutes my fussy toddler was flying his space ship around the kitchen, making laser noises and and giggling. He sort of knows which toys are the “good guys” and which are the “bad guys.” I generally pick the villains to play with, because that’s what my dad did, and he always wants to play with the heroes. I won’t pretend to know why my boy decided that would cheer him up, but there is something worth paying attention to in the pattern, which I’d argue is largely true of males in general.

Boys usually crave adventure toys, action, excitement, and they idolize heroic figures. Some of this is likely cultural, but I’d argue that in the hearts of men there tends to be a desire for action, an inclination to aim toward greatness, and a tendency to be inspired by noble things. These tendencies certainly shift and change as they age and develop their own values and interests. However, regardless of what form these desires take in the long run, they begin with a desire to be the hero, to be the best at whatever it is that they are pursuing, and an inclination to dream big dreams. As they age, boys tend to put these inclinations away in favor of more practical and realistic goals. This is natural and normal phenomena. Few men go to work everyday dreaming of being a hero. However, whether or not it is natural and normal, there is a sense in which it isn’t ideal. It is far better when a man realizes that their inclinations ought to be adopted to fit the lives in which they live. As the father of small children, I get to play the part of the hero. This often wears off as time goes by and children grow up. However, there are men I have known who dedicate their lives to being great fathers. Those men often raise children who see them as heroes. The same can be said of a man who dedicates himself to being a great husband. It’s important to note that this is more than just being a friend or a good provider. It is being an example, defender, caretaker, leader, fixer, teacher, and all manner of other things. Further, men who pursue depth of character, integrity, and righteousness grow to a stature that causes folks to see them as heroes and great in their own right. I would argue that this is essentially what Christians refer to when they speak of following Christ’s example. Some of the most impressive men I know are those who try to live like Jesus. Their families, friends and neighbors recognize that they are different. Paul once wrote that when he became a man he put away childish things. The things that make men great are too easily deemed childish. Having a desire to pursue greatness in family and community life, then acting on that desire, is the beginning of achieving distinction.

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