Category: Character

Heroic Men; Genuine Masculinity

Heroic Men; Genuine Masculinity

A term we hear these days, which we never heard until just a few years ago, is Toxic Masculinity. 

I think I understand the intent of those who use it; and I agree with their intent. It’s used in reference to alcohol-fueled frat boys who force their will on alcohol-incapacitated women; to sports thugs caught on camera slapping or kicking their girlfriends; to corporate creeps who think their business authority gives them the right to apply it sexually to the women they oversee; to the media titans shocked to discover that the groping license of the “old boys club” doesn’t apply any more.

If that is the intent of those who use the phrase Toxic Masculinity, I get it. When it comes to standing up for the inherent rights of women to be free from fear of assault, from discriminatory treatment, and from assumed privilege of men in power toward them, I’m with them. In my opinion #ItsAboutTime women were treated with the respect they deserve simply because they are a gift from God who created them in his own image.

But I reject the term Toxic Masculinity. In my opinion, there is no such thing. 

There absolutely are toxic males (I refuse to call them men) who strut and pose on the stage of their own lives, suspecting they actually signify nothing. Males like the ones described above. Males who come to the end of their own sense of worth and potency and unleash their final fury on theater-goers, high school classmates, dance club-attenders, and outdoor concert revelers. 

These are indescribably toxic males who never learned what it really means to be a man. They take as many victims with them as they can as they go out in a distorted “ blaze of glory.” They have nothing to do with genuine masculinity.

Masculinity, like femininity, is a gift from God. Each is a part of his character that He chose to reflect to humanity. Femininity reveals the profoundly relational, stunningly captivating, fiercely protective, life-giving nature of God. Masculinity reveals the powerful, action-oriented, life-defending, self-sacrificial nature of God. 

Just as there are toxic males, there certainly are toxic women. They are sadly damaged and fallen. But just as there is no such thing as toxic femininity, there is no such thing as toxic masculinity. Both genders are, at their core, a sacred gift. 

What is Masculinity? It may be hard to define, but we know it when we see it. Here is one of the best descriptions I’ve ever seen…and I love that it’s expressed by a woman. She knows that, though our world gives us far too many examples of toxic males, genuine masculinity is trustworthy, courageous and heroic. The world needs more of them.

Honesty and Hope

Perhaps you’ve seen the recent Gillette commercial about men being the best they can be. The phrase “the best a man can get” took me back to hazy “wonder years” when I wondered when I might need to shave anything at all.

As I watched the clip, it evoked similar beneath-the-surface feelings: recognition, conviction, inspiration and commitment. So I was surprised to hear and read that not everyone had the same positive impression of the clip as I did. In fact, I saw through one source that reactions against the commercial were 4:1 versus those that saw it as positive.

Honesty and Hope
On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice

The daily drama related to the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court appointment process is thankfully over. But anger on both political sides lingers. Some are furious at his appointment; others at his interview ordeal.

I confess I share my thoughts here as if I’m standing on some very thin ice…but I’m skating ahead. Whichever side we took, or switched to, throughout the process, I wonder if we can agree on these observations:

Christine Blasey Ford was convincingly believable in her testimony. Over time and throughout the high pressure of the situation she went through, I was increasingly impressed by her calm, sincere demeanor; her patience with the invasive nature of the questioning; her honesty about details she couldn’t recall; and her emotional vulnerability at what she did remember.

Only a very few people know who it was who assaulted her at a high school party gone very wrong. But to me there is no        denying: that woman was mistreated, demeaned and probably assaulted by some man. It broke my heart for her.

Kavanaugh, too, was entirely believable, especially in his prepared statements. Like you and I would have been, he was clearly offended and hurt by the characterizations made against him by those who hardly know him—or those who only knew him 36 years ago.

I thought he had every right to express his pain and anger at the process. I wondered how I would feel if I was accused of behavior that I was convinced was not only unfair, but untrue. I got a lump in my throat when Kavanaugh spoke of the request his daughter made to “pray for the woman.”

The process is an indictment against the crude, myopic, disrespectful state of American politics we now live in. I wonder who in their right mind would want to be the next candidate, proposed by either political party, for a Supreme Court appointment. That used to be the honor of a lifetime. Now this is the kind of treatment and abuse he or she can expect from those who will reflexively oppose the appointment.

Seriously? This is how we want it to work? The current state of our politics should be an embarrassment to all of us.

The accusations against Kavanaugh, regardless of their accuracy, are actually an indictment against the morals of our own society. He’s a man who grew up in a male-permissive culture which—through countless voices from TV, movies, strutting “jocks”, fraternities, and the whispers and goading of his own peers—communicated the message, “C’mon be a man, get what you can. Take whatever you want. Your manliness, your value as a guy, is determined by how many women you get.” I know; I was there, too.

It saddens, bewilders and even angers me that a boy of 17 can be exposed to countless broken messages of entitlement by his society, then held to completely opposite expectations by the same society four decades later.

Then that man is publicly condemned, regardless of the transformation and lessons-learned that might have taken place in those decades of potential growth and change. What unbelievable hypocrisy!

I’m convinced Ford was abused by a man.

I’m convinced Kavanaugh is an imperfect, but talented man who is genuinely respected by scores of men and women who have worked alongside him throughout his career.

I’m also convinced it’s about time American culture learns how to encourage and respect real masculinity while countering the still-present voices that promote random sexual promiscuity from men.

Further, it’s stunningly hypocritical that our society urges women to assert that same random promiscuity in their own sexual lives. It’s if they are being told, “Don’t be women. Be more like broken men.” It boggles the mind.

I feel compassion toward Ford. I feel sympathy toward Kavanaugh. I feel anger toward our cultural hypocrisy and our gutter-level politics. When will we learn? What can we do in response?

How about if each of us commits to being a voice for respectful political dialogue? What if each of us commits to consistently demonstrating respect toward the opposite gender?

Given our current climate I know that may feel like walking on thin ice. I’ll go first.

“It’s shocking. It’s awful. It’s tragic. There’s hope.”

Those were my words when the first accusations against Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek, came out in the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today last spring. My words were in response to a group of men who asked how it felt for me, knowing I had served on staff at the church for four years in the 1990’s.

Those words still hold true for me today; they are just stronger. As weeks have gone by more women have courageously stepped forward to reveal shocking stories of harassment, intimidation and inappropriate behavior they say they experienced from Hybels. He still denies the accusations and the elders are now re-investigating the claims, after months of their own denials and unkind characterizations against the women.

“It’s shocking. It’s awful. It’s tragic. There’s hope.”
Your Gift to Your (Grand)Father

Your Gift to Your (Grand)Father

I was moved by the photography and message of this clip. It’s less than 3 minutes and definitely worth a look.

With Father’s Day right around the corner you may already be thinking of what you might want to say to your dad or grandfather. There’s a good chance your thoughts are also mixed with memories of regret or disappointment. I know how that feels.

I want to encourage you not to let past pain or current awkwardness keep you from saying what your heart leads you to say. Your words spoken to a man who quite possibly wrestles with growing questions of significance due to age, remorse, loss or failure can truly be a life-giving gift. Your words matter.

  • “Dad, thank you for providing for us.”
  • “Grandpa, thank you for paying attention to me.”
  • “I’m grateful for you.”
  • “Thank you for your patience.”
  • “I’d like to stay in touch more.”
  • “Can I come visit? When can you visit us?”
  • “I actually thank God for you.”
  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “I love you.”

On this Father’s Day take one intentional, courageous, manly step to let a key man in your life know he still matters. You won’t regret it.

 

 

American Exceptionalism: Random Male Violence, Part II

In my previous post, Random Male Violence, Part I I began to unravel the mystery of why the random violence we regularly encounter happens in the U.S. on a level unlike any other country. Our soul searching requires that we recognize that we are developing wounded males. But all countries have wounded males.

There’s another inescapable reason random mass slaughter happens within American borders so much more than anywhere else— the ease with which anyone, regardless of capabilities, mental health or training can get their hands on assault rifles—weapons of mass destruction. The solution to this issue has proven exceptionally difficult to find, but I don’t think there is any question that this is a central part of the problem.

American Exceptionalism: Random Male Violence, Part II
American Exceptionalism: Random Male Violence, Part I

American Exceptionalism: Random Male Violence, Part I

Once again we wrestle with piercing feelings of grief, bewilderment and anger. Yet again a young American male has unleashed his wrath against a vulnerable group of students. Our hearts ache, our heads shake and our minds reel. How can this keep happening? What can we do to make sure this never happens again?

We’re familiar with the spectrum of suggested causes as well as solutions—it’s a mental health issue, it’s a gun access issue, it’s a cultural issue. It’s all of those to some degree, but in my opinion it’s a horrific case of American Exceptionalism.

I love my country, but I really dislike the way that term is typically used. It implies that American culture is first and best, as if we’re all in a global competition for a mythical cultural gold medal. Having traveled to more than 60 countries over the years I’ve experienced qualities in every one of them that are admirable as well as unfortunate. Mine included.

Yes, we Americans have demonstrated an outstanding technological ability to fly humans to the moon or to instantaneously connect and communicate with others half a world away. But honesty also compels us to admit our exceptionalism in incarcerating the highest number of citizens per capita of any nation in the world.

In grief we must also admit the exceptional acts we regularly face—young males who randomly unleash deadly violence against their own kind. Even a short-list of the locations where slaughter took place over the past 19 years evokes memories and emotions that should never entirely fade: Columbine, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Las Vegas, and now Parkland. (See my previous post, Our Spirits Groan.)

Each stands out in its own uniqueness of location and horror, but they share two common characteristics: the perpetrator was male and he was an American.

Of course, other nations have violent young men, but they tend to slaughter those who are different from themselves. They go after those of another religion, ethnicity, tribe or political persuasion. In the US our violent males slaughter randomly.

Why does this happen here and not elsewhere? My opinion is that American culture produces young males who are profoundly self-absorbed and entitled. (See my previous post, Brilliant Jerks.) At the same time they are deeply uncertain of their own significance and place in a dramatically changing cultural and economic landscape. And, they often pick up the message—whether through bullying, macho posturing, gangs, or violent video games— that the solution to disagreement and conflict is often best settled through some form of violence.

I had intended to start writing this blog last weekend, but found myself gripped by both sadness and anger at the violence recently unleashed in Parkland, FL. Having decided to take a break and see a movie, I was stunned at what appeared in the very first frame: this quote from author D. H. Lawrence, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” It was all I could do to keep from gasping out loud at how horribly accurately this described exactly what I was grieving.

Man, how much I want to disagree with that statement! I know so many wonderful, connected, compassionate, life-giving men. And, Lawrence had a different, late 19th-early 20th century, American era in mind when he made that statement. But I have to also acknowledge the extent to which this quote fits today. So many young males in American culture are tough, alone, emotionless…and can so easily turn into killers.

In his book Guyland, author Michael Kimmel identified an American sub-culture of males, ages 16-26 whose key qualities are privilege, narcissism, entitlement and self-centeredness. They are convinced that they are the center of the universe, that they are the most sought out marketing demographic (unfortunately, they’re right), that they set the social rules, and that everyone else who wants to fit in, women above all others, needs to accept and adhere to those rules. As long as a male in that demographic succeeds, he’s in. If he doesn’t measure up by the group’s or his own standards, he’s out.

Some of those young males who find themselves “out,” simmer with anger and shame until they decide to resolve things in violence. Some of them grow older and never find a sense of community or significance, until the lava of hidden resentment suddenly erupts with deadly consequences. Then they become a headline.

Courage and humility require us to face the awful circumstances we repeatedly see in American culture. In the next post, American Exceptionalism, Part II, I’ll explore factors that indicate what some solutions might be.

Brilliant Jerks

American culture does a good job of creating, idolizing, and then rewarding, young men who are convinced of the following life principles:

  1. Life is a party. Rock on.
  2. You’re the master of your domain. You get to decide how life goes. Others are at your service.
  3. You’re special. The rules that govern others don’t apply to you. You get a pass.
  4. You’re invincible. You’re forever young. You’ll avoid the natural consequences of injury, illness and aging.
  5. It’s all about you. You’re the center of the universe. Grab it.
Brilliant Jerks
Which Will It Be…Rights Or Rites?

Which Will It Be…Rights Or Rites?

Rite of Passage. Western culture largely views these as age-based rights young adults automatically deserve once they hit a certain date. Depending on local laws 18 or 21-year olds are allowed to consume tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and pornography; they can now purchase weapons and ammunition. In most cases, this “right” is granted regardless of whether youths have benefited from any guidance in the inherent dangers of these practices nor any training in discernment in their use.

High school sports team and college fraternity hazing rituals involving sexual abuse, or deadly alcohol over-consumption, as we saw this week at Penn State and in 2013 at my own alma mater, Northern Illinois University, confirm the consequences of the absence of effective guidance in rites of passage.

Cultures across the globe have practiced the often-sacred ritual of male rites of passage when the fathers of a village suddenly take the sons away from the familiar and expose them to a new understanding of their roles as young men.   These practices universally include the stages of separation—encounter—challenge—return—celebration.

Jewish culture, Native American, African cultures and others continue these time-honored traditions today. North American and European cultures have largely abandoned this kind of “initiation” to responsible, self-disciplined adult behavior at great cost.

This week Peregrine Ministries guided six dads and six sons through a modern version of this sacred practice we call Passage to Manhood. The dads “stole” their unsuspecting and bewildered sons from their high school for a day of mystery, teaching, challenge, movie clips, story-telling and sharpshooting. The journey culminated the next night with a room full of moms, siblings and grandparents who witnessed story-telling and blessing.

This isn’t a one-time deal where the sons suddenly become men overnight. But it is a profound and significant step in a journey that encourages young men to love God and others with all their heart (compassion), soul (confidence), mind (conviction), and strength (courage.)

Do you have a son who needs to hear this truth and experience this kind of encounter with you? Let us know. Because he matters.

Today’s News Confirms: Men Matter, They Just Don’t Think So

In one breakfast of scanning the newspaper this week I came across these stories:

1. The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker wrote a moving editorial regarding Charleston church murderer Dylann Roof. He’s the self-professed white supremacist who slaughtered 9 African Americans while attending a Bible study at their church. (Just typing those words makes me both sick and angry.)

Roof may want the public to believe his insistence that he wanted to start a race war, or that he has justified grievances against blacks he supposes are the cause of his life of misery and social rejection.

Parker eloquently lifts the veil to the real truth of what drove him to this awful act:

Today’s News Confirms: Men Matter, They Just Don’t Think So