Wednesday, September 14, 2011

masculinity and the church

As a father of 3 boys, an American football player and coach, and someone that works closely with construction workers and the trades I find myself constantly surrounded by guys.  Its a comfortable world for me.

As a big, crass talking, tattooed, bearded, beer swigging guy, being around other dudes who are like me works. Its a world of competition: punching contests, one-up contests, I can hold out longer with the alligator clips from jumper cables cutting into the flesh on my knuckles contests.

We are constantly testing each other to see who can handle more pain, can lift more weight, can handle more insults.

We are men, real men! The embodiment of masculinity, right?

Masculinity is something passed on from man to man, specifically from father to son. Anthropologically, it is our attempt to pass on the skills to fight off an attacking horde, to hunt a savage beast and put protein on the table, and to woo a mate by our feats of strength and endurance, but masculinity is under attack!

We want to change it, redefine it, even eliminate it because we ONLY define masculinity in these rough and tumble terms. Masculinity is fighting and rage. Masculinity causes interpersonal conflict and strife. Masculinity tears apart the family and thrives on pain. Masculinity is threatening because...

We are living through a crisis of fatherlessness.

About 1/3 of our children are living without their fathers, but who cares, right? We can raise kids without fathers!

Whatever kids need development-wise they can get from uncles, from neighbors, from teachers, even from friends. Even though masculinity, or lets just define it as what it is, what it means to be a man, can be passed on from ANY person with a penis. A father is not only not necessary, they may even be contributing to societal problems with their violent ways, right? These masculine traits just end up getting our kids into trouble.

Masculinity = trouble = jail!

Now I want to scream out,

masculinity is NOT the problem!, but I just can't get myself to say it. Why? Because it kinda is the problem, well, not real masculinity.

Fatherless boys grow up seeing only one side of masculinity, the rough side. They see the fighting, the swearing, the picking on the weak, but they don't learn about being a real man. They learn hyper-masculinity.

As much as male influences are a great thing, even necessary for the fatherless: friends, family members, youth leaders, even Big Brothers only give the child a small glimpse at masculinity. These boys often can't, or don't see that even though a man lives smack dab in the middle of a testosterone fueled culture, a culture that at times requires a bit of conflict and even the occasional fight, there are times that a real man, even within this culture, needs to modify his "violent" behavior. 

A real man takes time to comfort those suffering around him, to lend a shoulder to cry on, and to be vulnerable with those around him, but he doesn't lose his man-ness. There is a moment for everything in life: living and dying, laughing and crying, even fighting and running away, but our fatherless all too often don't see it.

So why am I talking about this here, and now?

Masculinity in the church has become a frequent topic during my discipleships, during my conversations with my boys, even during our conversations  here about short term missions. Its on the mind of everyone around me and I think I know why...

While the world is in the midst of a crisis of fatherlessness, so is the church!

Our men are being forced onto the pew, because there is no one like them there, or at least that is the perception.  They are being asked to check all their roughness at the door and told by their wives, their girlfriends, their mothers, “If only you were more like [pick your meek mild soft spoken man in the church], things would be so much better.”

While the world learns hyper-masculinity without a dad, the church learns hyper-pussyness. There are no spiritual fathers to help show us when to fight, how to fight, even how to grab a whip and clear out the temple. We leave our men on their own to define masculinity in the church because we don't want to be a father, a spiritual father, to someone else. I mean, seriously, I don't have the time, or I don't know enough, or maybe I just don't want to do it.

No, I am not saying lets start a fight club in the youth room on Saturday nights, although I'm not opposed, I am just saying lets step up as men and teach others what it means to be a man in the church.  That does not mean organizing some retreat where we wander through the wilderness, stake up tents, and live off the fat of the land like the Marlboro Man! It means teaching a man what to fight for!

Someone told me that masculinity is about respect, and in the church its no different. People want authenticity, they want to know they are not alone in the world. We, as men in the church, need to earn the respect of the men around us, to fight for it, if we want to have influence in their lives, but respect is hard to come by if we are living like Mr Rogers at church and like Rambo on the job site.


I would like to say thank you to my dad. He was the one who taught me that there are times when a man needs to fight for his own, while at the same time showing me how to care for others. He was the one that taught me the value of hard work, and the futility of complaining. He was that one that taught me that a real man stands his ground.

Thanks dad!

How are you living out, or how have you seen men living out, true masculinity within the church? Have you ever felt like you couldn't be a “man” in a church setting? Are you, or are you willing, to be a spiritual father to someone?

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