Beginning a Men's Ministry...

I remember nearly twenty years ago, sitting across the cafeteria table from my best friend during our freshman year of college. I argued with her, “I’m not telling you men are superior to women or that women aren’t equal in the eyes of God. We’re just gifted differently, and women weren’t meant to be pastors.  It’s not biblical…”

As a pastor's husband now, it's clear God has an ironic sense of humor.

As many of you know, my spiritual journey over the last decade or so has brought me far from my conservative, Evangelical roots. I have repented more than once for the ways my attitudes, beliefs and behaviors wounded others. But sometimes guilt leads us away from healthy engagement with the underlying geography of our past. Sometimes our pendulum swings too far, and we lose sight of where we’ve come from, and ignore important work left to do.

In the last two years, as I have explored what it means to be the father of a little boy, I find myself captivated and consumed by the question of what it means to be a man. In my desire to distance myself from whatever chauvinism or misogyny inhabited my mind before, I tried to distance myself from the particularities of manhood altogether.  

“After all, isn’t gender simply a social construct?  Aren’t we all the same, underneath?”

Watching my son each day, it’s hard to buy the idea that his behaviors and his personality are all largely socially constructed. Underneath whatever he’s observed and absorbed, there is something unequivocally male about him. And stating that idea makes me cringe: “What will you think? Will people assume I’m a sexist? Or insensitive to those who don’t identify with traditional gender identifiers? Is it anti-feminist to talk about maleness at all?” This tension is the natural result of a long history of patriarchy and narrow gender roles. But that shouldn’t prevent us from forging ahead in humility and hope.

The truth is that there are real differences between men and women, and all of us need resources and nourishment for our unique needs. Poet Robert Bly wrote, “where a man’s wound is, that is where his genius will be.” (Iron John) As I begin my final internship before completing my Masters of Divinity, am humbled and eager to begin exploring the wounds and the genius we carry as men, and help build a stronger, more authentic men's ministry at our local church.

What is wrong with BOYS?! What is wrong with MEN?!

Those of you who know me know that for the last couple of years, I have been eagerly exploring concepts of masculinity and engaging conversations about what it means to be a man.  As the father of a son, I want to do more than accept social norms.  As a progressive, I also want to do more than reject the conversation and pretend that men and women are the same.  We are certainly more the same than we are different, but neither are we the same...

A friend from church just let me know that the film The Mask You Live In is now available to stream on Netflix.  It's one I've had on my list to watch for some time.  I'm watching it now.  A few soundbytes:
"We can't talk about being afraid.  We can't talk about being hurt.  We can talk about being pissed off..." 
"Being a man doesn't have a single thing to do with athletics."
There are wounds in men that are still not safe to talk about.

I don't agree with every statement in the film.  I don't believe "masculinity" is "inorganic."  I don't believe it is merely an oppositional differentiation from femininity, or a rejection of all things feminine.  Certainly toxic, inorganic, false-masculinity is these things.

The film states that gender is a social construct.  That may be true, but sex is not a social construct, and testosterone has a real impact on behavior (The Wonder of Boys is a great start for reading about differences and how they emerge at a very young age).

It's hard not to be moved watching this film, though.  So many testimonials, so many wounded men.  The film opens with news footage of the violence and destruction perpetrated by men.  Until we begin having healthy conversations about these wounds, scary hyper/false/toxic-masculinity will
continue to aggressively and violently assert itself our society.

Other books I've been spending time with:

Your thoughts about masculinity?

Downside Up Preview: "Least was the most..."

"Some wanted the safety of self certainty,
But black and white rules don't set anyone free."
How does that argument strike you?

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Book Review: Cloud Atlas

Cloud AtlasI've complained plenty about David Mitchell, ever since Amazon suggested I'd like him because I like (love) Murakami. What a bizarre tangent! 

Mitchell's writing feels often self indulgent, inflated, and crammed with filler. 'Number9Dream' is the best example of this insufferable "and-then-this-happened!" mess. His recent "Bone Clocks" did little to improve my estimation.

It was the nearly-understated (for Mitchell) "Jacob De Zoet" that finally won me over to his skill as a writer and the scope of his imagination. Then "Slade House" came out, and I loved it for its restraint in both length and breadth.

I'm an addict of book club podcasts, and finally, after three or four raving reviews of "Cloud Atlas" (and long after I found the movie underwhelming) I decided I needed to jump in and do it.

I didn't love everything about this book. I found the pace and detail of Adam Ewing's journal laborious. But the closer to the six narratives' center I came, the more I found myself captivated and enjoying it. I LOVED the Somni story. At the midpoint, I worried that the "cheese" of the far-future island-speak would drive me crazy. Instead, I got used to it pretty quickly and got deep into the world Mitchell creates.

I also found myself enjoying several of the narratives more on the way out than on the way in - Frobisher for example.

For all the praise of the "nested doll" genius of Mitchell's structure, I'm not as convinced of the intricate interweaving of the stories. There are thematic consistencies - human oppression, racism, free will... And there are certainly more "Easter Eggs" than I noticed, I'm sure, although I caught the character and geographic allusions to his other books, as all his books seem to contain. A shared universe, so to speak. But despite my enjoyment of the stories, I'm not sure the structure "works" quite as well as it should, for all the attention it's received. 

That said, I really did enjoy "Cloud Atlas," and am sure I'll continue to read Mitchell's forthcoming creations.

Downside Up Preview: Was Christianity worth it?

This question might sound like heresy to you.  To me, it's one of the most important questions followers of Jesus can ask ourselves, and from whatever answers we find, we have to have the courage to take steps forward in whatever direction those answers lead...

Book Review: Torn - Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christians Debate

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-Vs-Christians Debate
Justin Lee

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians DebateAs my own theological and personal spiritual journey brought me to open affirmation of my LGBTQ sisters and brothers during the last decade, I have been increasingly frustrated and disappointed by the lack of written material speaking with affirmation to the issues of sexuality and the church - particularly from an Evangelical standpoint.

There are countless books now (thankfully) that effectively articulate a liberal mainline approach to affirming diverse sexuality, and Queer Theology is a nascent but rapidly growing iteration of liberation theology...

But again and again, when my Evangelical friends have asked me for recommendations to tackle this subject from a "non traditional" (read: non-conservative) standpoint, I haven't had anything that speaks "their language."

In "Torn," Justin Lee is so gracious and so gentle, that at times, I couldn't help wondering if I was about to get duped: is he going to surprise me and say, "just kidding, you can't really be gay and Christian!"?

That's not where Lee lands, but in his gentle approach, the strength of the book is also it's weakness. He takes two thirds of the book to "come out" and clearly articulate what he believes. It can be frustrating if you're looking for a quick answer. This, however, is clearly by design. Lee wants you to know who he is, where he comes from, and demonstrate relationally that he "gets" your perspective (if you're a conservative Evangelical). I know from experience, it's hard to trust someone's testimony or thesis if they don't share your worldview.

In the last third of the book, Lee provides the most well-articulated Biblical and faith-based argument for supporting and affirming LGBTQ people I have yet encountered. Some would argue that shouldn't be necessary in the first place - that basic human rights and common sense make their own case self-evident. But those folks aren't the ones who need convincing.

If the worse you can say about Lee is that he's "too gentle," and too gracious with anti-gay voices in the church, I'd say that's an impressive platform for him to speak from as a gay man.

I'm thrilled I can recommend this to friends who have been waiting for a BETTER theological argument than "well, we don't take the Bible LITERALLY."

Thanks Justin.

Downside Up Preview: Have YOU Been a Part of the Damage?

These are some of the most important questions I have ever asked myself as I emerged out of the echo-chamber of my own adolescent, religious exuberance, and began to see the damage I had participated in...

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