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?

Downside Up: Introduction Excerpt

Here's an excerpt from the Downside Up introduction.  This is the why folks...

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...

Book Review: "Station Eleven"

Station Eleven
Emily St. John Mandel

Station ElevenI'm getting tired of post-apocalyptic literature, but sometimes a book like this emerges, just barely using the genre to tell a fresh story about well-realized characters. Peter Heller's wonderful "Dog Stars" impacted me similarly, although his story illustrated too much brutality to call it an "enjoyable" read. 

"Station Eleven" is a delicate, beautiful, maudlin narrative plunged into the middle of pandemic apocalypse. St. John Mandel's prose is crisp and affectionate for her characters - she somehow manages a page-turner, although the overall action is a fairly slow build, subdued and almost anti-climatic if you allow yourself to assume that one of the plot points is the driving force of the book. It isn't. 

This is about relationships, love, nostalgia and regret, and it's a really satisfying read.

Downside Up Book Preview: Fear like a snowball...

If you haven't yet purchased your copy of Downside Up: A Gospel Story, Re-Dreamed, you may enjoy some glimpses inside the book, courtesy of my iPhone...

Book Review: Rohr's "From Wild Man to Wise Man"

From Wild Man to Wise Man
Richard Rohr

From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male SpiritualityThis book has been life-changing for me, particularly in how I think about my own identity, masculinity, and my role as father and husband.

As a feminist and a progressive, I feel like a lot of the language to talk about healthy masculinity has been co-opted by caricatures of alpha males and misogynists. It's hard to talk about maleness without raising alarms. I say that not as an example of "victimization" or reverse discrimination. It is the natural result of a long history of patriarchy and narrow gender roles. The truth is, however, that there are real differences between men and women, and all of us need appropriate spiritual and life practices, disciplines and resources to explore those uniquely male and female markers (I am also aware that last sentence leaves out folks who do not identify by one of those two labels, and there needs to be resources for them as well, of course).

I have read Rohr's book as a companion to Bly's "Iron John," and it's made Bly much more approachable and comprehensible. I highly recommend.

Book Review: A Girl in the Road

One of the things my "About Me" page mentions is that I'm a book nerd, and particularly love genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy, absurdism, magical realism... all that stuff).  I enjoy posting my reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, but this is another avenue where I'll share that passion.
The Girl in the Road

The Girl in the Road
Monica Byrne

I don't think I've read a book like this before. It is fast-paced in certain ways - almost reading like a thriller. It carries genre features that place it in a science fiction future. It is loaded with cultural and sexual commentary, making it progressive though ethically inconsistent (and thankfully not didactic), but the author's prose and the imagery she evokes is so beautiful, "The Girl" even feels sometimes literary.

Ultimately, it is the twisty-turning of the two parallel plots, the way they align, diverge, converge and finally collide, that captivated me throughout. I have never been good at predicting outcomes, so I enjoyed guessing again and again about each character's relationship to the other.

Byrne is fearless in her explorations of cultures, social systems, and particularly sexuality. I'm pleased I read this book after recently complaining about the misplaced and meaninglessly graphic sex scene in another book, because "The Girl" is FAR more sexual - and graphic - than prior books I have derided. What's different is the sexuality in this book feels organic to the characters and their narratives. The story doesn't "stop" for a forced scene. Sexuality is embedded, for good and evil - or maybe neither.

I can't recommend this highly enough, though it is not for the faint of heart. Byrne creates a vivid late 21st-century universe, and that universe helps propel and contextualize the momentum of each story till the painful through generally satisfying end. 

Blogging... And why?

When I started blogging here at back in 2004, it was very early in my personal faith exploration.  I had been a lifelong Evangelical, and was firmly rooted (or so I thought) in the Assemblies of God.

Little by little, questions began rearing their ugly little heads - doubts about what I believed, or why I believed, and they weren't going away.  As several of my friends came out of the closet, certain "theological questions" stopped being theological and started getting personal, and I was confronted with a choice: to hold rigidly to the things I was raised to believe, or to prayerfully begin exploring other ways of being Christian.

I began attending George Fox Evangelical Seminary in 2005, the same year I married Jennifer.  At the time, Jennifer was just about done with Christianity.  She said, "Peter, you can do whatever you want, but I am not going to be a pastor's wife."  Seven years later, I'd become a pastor's husband.

Life has a funny way of stripping away all our expectations and assumptions.  Or rather, God has a funny way...  In 2004 I began pulling on loose threads as a faithfully-questioning Evangelical.  Several years later, I was ready to reject almost everything good I had been raised with.

In subsequent years, with one foot planted firmly in the progressive mainline United Church of Christ tradition, and the other foot still toe-touching the broad Evangelicalism at George Fox, I find myself caught between two worlds and frustrated at how difficult it is to bring them into dialogue with one another.

I wrote Downside Up as some kind of attempt to speak to both sides, and to people who have pretty much given up on the whole church thing altogether.

Which camp do you fit into?

The book is out!

Incredible.  Two years ago, my son was born and while on paternity leave, I had an incredible opportunity to pitch a book idea I'd been toying with for years: a picture book for grown ups about Jesus, the church, what went wrong (REALLY wrong) and what hope - if any - was left.

I had been beating my head against the wall trying to drum up interest from publishers, but without the visuals to bring the concept alive, it wasn't resonating.

When Christian Piatt told me about a contest through his venture CrowdScribed I jumped at the opportunity to pitch this to my friends and family and try to build enough online interest to make the project fly.  I won a publishing package, and two years later, Downside Up is the result!

It wouldn't have happened without the loving care and buy in from artist Stacey Chomiak.  She brought my rhyme and verse - and truly my vision - to life, and I'm so grateful for the partnership.

I'm going to start posting more here at to share more about the book, and about my experiences trying to get the word out.

If you like the concept, I could use your help.  Order the book at or Barnes and Noble, REVIEW the book online, and please tell your friends and family.  Let's start a dialogue about transforming the church - and the world - with some kindness.


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