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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Real men ...

My daughter Erica recently had a scholarship interview with a university professor. She was asked, "What are a couple of issues that you feel are extremely important in the world today?" Her answers were first, society's tendency to see women as sexual objects, and second, the surrender of true masculinity. I think she's on to something. As we read Genesis 2, the Bible lays out a thought-provoking sense of what it means to be male and female.

In Genesis 1, God creates male and female together. There's a sense of balance, of equality, of symmetry in this creation. And that is important, valuable, true.

The Genesis 2 story highlights the contrast, the complementarity between male and female. This perspective is not contradicting Genesis 1, but enhancing it. It is also important, valuable, and true. In Genesis 2, the man is created first. So let's take a look at the man.

Interesting that God creates him outside the garden. Did you notice that? John Eldredge makes a big deal about this in his book Wild At Heart, and rightly so. The man is created out in the wilderness, and then God puts him in the garden to till it and keep it. There are a couple things to notice here about men. First, there is something ungroomed, undomesticated, outside-the-garden in the male heart -- and this is a God-given gift. Society has tried again and again to file the rough edges off men, and when we have done so we have put ourselves at risk. Collectively, we need the rough energy, the barbarian capabilities of men. We need this not just in times of overt conflict, but perhaps even more in the quiet times of life when all seems peaceful and we are tempted to become complacent. There is a wildness to male assertiveness that stands in tension with -- not necessarily in conflict with -- female strength.

There's a great deal more to be said about this, and we could go on at some length. For the moment, I strongly recommend the books Wild At Heart and Captivating, the first by John Eldredge and the second by John and his wife, Stasi. These two books take a personalized, thoughtful, biblical look at maleness and femaleness. They are easy to read but also highly thought-provoking. Or, if you're looking for something different, find a copy of Where the Wild Things Are -- the children's book, not the movie -- and read slowly, look at the pictures, and ponder what it means to grow up male, how it puts you in tension with domesticated life, and how every man at some point needs to go away to where the wild things rumpus. For those of you reading this from a female perspective, think: what is there about undomesticated man that is good, valuable, and necessary? Too many women have been hurt by men who are immature and out of control; that is not what we're talking about. The question we need to grapple with is, how can male wildness be redeemed without necessarily being tamed?

When men allow themselves to be tranquilized, (literally, "made peaceful") by society, by the expectations of women, or perhaps most damaging by their own mistaken sense of what is "right" and "mature" for a man, or when men rebel against these mistaken perceptions and fall into a Peter Pan existence where they refuse to grow to maturity, we all suffer. Look at the church if you doubt this. There is a drought in churches today of authentic male leaders. Men who succeed in the church are generally either good politicians, telling people what they want to hear, or they are tranquil men who meekly serve without ever offending, even for the sake of truth. It is a rare and precious thing in the church today to find a man who will faithfully, lovingly follow Jesus and proclaim his word without compromise even in the face of conflict or hardship. If you know such a man, stay close and hang on for the ride! So often men, especially young fathers, reject the church because they perceive it as a place where the rule of "Be Nice" will be forced on them. So they avoid church and cling to their bass boat, their tree stand, their golf clubs, their widescreen TV, their football games and beer bottles and barbecue grills, and as a consequence they find themselves living a life that feels full but is in reality tragically shallow. But bring men like this alongside an authentic, Christ-centered man who can lead them in the high-risk life of following Jesus, and they will be challenged to a whole new level of excitement that is a far cry from simply "being nice."

One of the most tragic lies men believe is that retirement is a time for them to become more tame than ever. I understand the value of well-earned rest, absolutely. But the pool of experience and talent and wisdom present in a group of retired guys is truly awesome -- and when such a group gets their hearts and their feet pointed the same direction, wow! I am reminded of Tennyson's poem in which he portrays the aging Ulysses, hero of the Trojan War and adventurer par excellence:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known,-- cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor'd of them all,--
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
to whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,--
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me,--
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads,-- you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

What is God's design for men? There's lots more to say. But it certainly does NOT mean that we give up adrenaline or a yearning for wild things.


  1. The Eldridge books completely rock. I feel for Stasi as she is the only female in a house of.. I think 4 men (her 3 sons and her husband).
    Both John and Stasi are going to be on the James Robison (sp?) show next week talking about their marriage... channel 364 or 365 on DirecTV. I saw the commercial today.

  2. Actually God created man first. Then, to paraphrase the Truth Project, God said, "it is not good for man to be alone." Del calls this the divine pause. I still don't understand why God created man first - and even made a point of it, as if He made a mistake, before creating women. Even though I do not understand His reasoning, it is clear that women was created to balance (complete?) man.

    Like your daughter, I do wish we (society) had a better handle on God's plan for maleness and femaleness.

  3. While supervising the girls basketball game tonight (Elks win 62-57 in triple overtime), one answer to the question about "maleness" was illustrated to me. A young family with a daughter of about 4 and a son about 3 were leaving after the game. As they approached a water fountain the little girl ask daddy to help her get a drink - and of course the proud daddy helped. The little boy however wanted to do it by himself. For a good minute I watched him struggle, he could press the button or he could drink, but he could do both at the same time. When mom offered to help, he still said "no, I want to do". He finally succeeded in getting drop or two - certainly no more than that. He walked away from the fountain with a big smile because "He did it".

    I think that is one trait that is burned into mans being.

    Anyhow, I couldn't wait to drive home and add this small bit of insight. (I feel like the little boy!)