I have many letters from Christian women who find today’s ideal Christian man boring and even creepy. His lack of get-up-and-go sets off warning flares in their feminine souls. He’s so distasteful that some women say they do not want to get married. And those who are married to one wish they hadn’t said “I do.”
Writes the wife of a Christian man low on what history recognizes as gumption, assertiveness, and readiness: “I struggle to love my husband, but I no longer respect him. We’re separated and contemplating divorce. I’ve spent endless nights crying over what I’ve come to see as my sweet Christian husband who everyone else loves but who I can’t stand anymore. He is so unreliable and unmanly. He doesn’t know how to act like a man.”
Sometimes Christian men recognize this deficit in themselves: “Before getting married women told me how pleasant I was. Now that I’m married, my wife tells me that she wishes I were more alive and motivated. She says I’m not as assertive as a married man with two kids should be. She’s right. But something inside me tells me it’s wrong to stand up and behave like a man.” I know this sounds harsh, but I’m willing to bet that his “something” is sermons he hears at church.
Sometimes their cry for help is shorter and more haunting. “When am I going to feel like a man?” asked one husband after the latest GodMen conference, a man also on the verge of divorce.
We expect conservative churches to point out the lack of masculine balance in church, but it’s also being pointed out by more moderate to liberal churches. Writes reporter Douglass Todd, “There is now a popular Christian hymn, Spirit of Gentleness, which includes the line ‘Our women see visions; our men clear their eyes.’ The hymn suggests, not too subtly, that women have got it together, while men are misguided. Is that the best vision of manhood that boys and men can hope for from liberal spirituality?”
David Guiliano of the United Church of Canada is concerned that “mainline churches reflect the casual devaluation of men that occurs in mass entertainment and advertising, where men are often comically portrayed as incompetent bumblers.”
Another moderate to liberal Christian, humorist Garrison Keillor, lamented decades ag “Years ago manhood was an opportunity for achievement, and now it is a problem to be overcome. Being ‘all right’ is a dismal way to spend your life, and guys are not equipped for it. We are lovers and artists and adventurers, meant to be noble, free-ranging and foolish, like dogs, not competing for a stamp of approval as a ‘Friend of Womanhood.’”
The ideal man is being redefined before our bewildered eyes. The word masculinity is only about 100 years old. It never appears in the Bible, though examples of it (and its lack) sure do. We men search for an understanding of it the way a young buck pants for water. And sometimes we find it in dubious sources. A man who takes his understanding of manhood from MTV, pro athletes--or even more pathetically, pro wrestling--will have a very different definition than one who takes his understanding of manliness from the Marine Corps or Peace Corps. In the coming months this blog will provide a new definition that’s older, wiser, and time-honored.
Here’s a good place to start. When President Theodore Roosevelt died in 1919, the Boy Scouts of America spoke of him in terms befitting a man with roaring and noble masculinity. I can think of only a few men outside the military and inside the church today who would receive such a fiery eulogy:
He was frail, he made himself a tower of strength. He was timid; he made himself a lion of courage. He was a dreamer; he became one of the great doers of all time.” Further, “he broke a nation’s slumber with his cry, and it rose up. He touched the eyes of blind men with a flame and gave them vision. Souls became swords through him, swords became servants of God.
Roosevelt, perhaps the most popular example of a man who began with weak masculinity but who grew it to the point of abundance, observed that well-intended Christians of his day, “were very nice, very refined, who shook their heads over political corruption and discussed it in drawing rooms and parlors, but who were wholly unable to grapple with real men in real life.” Look around in church this week and ask yourself: Has anything changed?
There is a spirit that’s unique to a man that wants to grapple with real issues, real men, and real life—if only his spiritual training would really prepare him, give him permission to enter the fray, and stop mistaking fierceness for violence. This masculine spirit hardens what is too soft in a man and softens what is too hard. I saw this transformation take place at the most recent GodMen gathering in Franklin, TN.
One man told me how, after the first GodMen, he drove past a homeless young man. He has driven past more homeless people than he can remember. But for some reason he couldn’t ignore the plight of this young man. His soul was agitated—a sure sign that his guy nature was flowing. “How can such a young man be broken so early in life?” he thought to himself. Unlike countless times before, he circled the block, brought him back to his home and helped him get back on his feet. He even helped him receive extensive dental care for free, thanks to a Christian man in another state who paid to have the young man flown to his practice and on the dentist’s dime. “I wouldn’t have done that before going to GodMen,” he told me. “Something about GodMen changed me.”
Our unique conference helped this man step up to the plate of life, harness his indignation at depravity and despair, and muster the courage necessary to love in practical and redemptive ways. GodMen speaks a man’s soul language: love that’s more practical and less sentimental. Love fortified by courage. GodMen hardens what is too soft in many men.
Then there’s the Vietnam vet who went through so much hell on earth over there that it makes sense why portions of his soul would turn hard and cold. He literally appeared different by the end of GodMen. His face was relaxed and peaceful. His body was in repose, as if a kind of soul-fever lifted.
The authenticity of GodMen changed him and helped him spill out horrific memories from nearly 40 years ago as a young man in a foreign country who fought a war he didn’t ask to fight. No parades for him; instead, he came home to scorn, disdain, and ridicule, which made him angry and full of rage in return. He didn’t deserve that treatment, so when we recognized our military men toward the end of GodMen with a standing ovation, his chest and heart grew, though the applause was not meant for him. “I didn’t get that when I came back from Vietnam. When I see today’s military men being honored like that, it makes me feel better,” he told me, tears in his eyes. GodMen softens what is too hard in men.
This new male spirituality that I’m fortunate to be part of is bringing men back to life. Redemption for men includes warming what is too cold, and cooling what is too hot.
Paul Coughlin is the author of No More Christian Nice Guy, and the upcoming, No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps: Raising Secure, Assertive Kids in a Tough World (June 2007). He is the co-author along with his wife Sandy of Married But Not Engaged. He's also a founding member of GodMen (www.godmen.com). To have Paul speak at your men's event, contact him at www.christianniceguy.com. Sandy can be reached at http://reluctantentertainer.blogspot.com/