Category: Venus and Vegas

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.

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.

The Women in Your Life

Guys,

Though I can’t recommend everything he has written, Steven Pressfield is a remarkably gifted story-teller, movie writer (The Legend of Bagger Vance) and author (The War of Art). I absolutely love what his latest blog post says about the significance, the impact and the allure of the women in our lives: The Female Carries the Mystery.

Today, think about the sacred mystery your wife, your daughter(s) or female friends bring into your life. You might want to tell them, “Wow. Thank you.”

The Women in Your Life
Build Good Men. Continued.

Build Good Men. Continued.

Yet again, we come face-to-face with the bewildering, heart-breaking news of another mass killing in the U.S. This time, for my wife, Beryl, and me, it pierces even closer to home—3 killed, 9 wounded in Colorado Springs, our home for the past 16 years. Revulsion, grief, ache, and anger boil to the surface.

And, just days later, another horrific scene of slaughter takes place in San Bernardino, CA. We watch the horror unfold in stunned disbelief.

Coming so shortly after the bombings and killings in Paris and Mali, a world that already felt unstable and unsafe, now feels even less safe and even more bewildering.

What is going on? I feel compelled to comment, mostly on the Colorado Springs event, because it happened in my backyard. I’m intentionally bypassing the political issues of abortion, terror or gun control. There is another time and place for that conversation. I’m landing on the common thread in these stories that motivates me more than any other.

It’s the same thread I referred to three years ago in the first blog I wrote entitled Build Good Men, following the slaying of over 20 school children in Newtown, CT. I just need to say it again.

“How do we build good men?” This, radio commentator Dennis Prager says, is one of the most important questions for any society to effectively answer. I agree. It’s why for the past 20 years it has been my life calling. While we in the U.S. are grateful for the countless good men around us, we are also clearly failing in this arena in dramatic ways.

Why is it that we have to ask this question about men? Isn’t it also exceedingly important for societies to “build good women?” Absolutely, it is. But when we watch the violence and slaughter that surround us with increasing frequency, we should admit the obvious…women aren’t the problem. It’s the men.

You’ve heard me say it before…men matter. The past week reveals it once again. Don’t women matter too? Of course, they do. But women so often seem more other-centered, and live their lives with a focus on the well-being of their families, their communities and their work colleagues.

Why do men matter? Because the difference between good men and wicked men is so extreme. Men seem to cause a disproportionate impact on society, especially when they bring violence.  We men have a life-impacting choice to make: will we direct our energy to bring blessing or destruction to those around us? Our answers affect the world.

Just a month ago I told a group of friends of Peregrine ministries, “We don’t know when the next act of mass-killing will take place, what state it will happen in, what weapon will be used, or what location it will take place in. But we do know one thing in advance…the perpetrator will be a man.” We had no idea how soon those factors would be answered, so close to home.

The exceptional factor of a woman being one of the shooters in San Bernardino actually emphasizes the point—she was absolutely exceptional. In fact, once the FBI discovered there was a woman involved, their public statement was that this was no longer a typical mass-shooting. Later we discovered she and her husband were likely radicalized Islamists.

Yesterday a friend asked me, Why are the killers almost always men? When we pay close attention to the violent stories that surround us throughout the world, a pattern reveals itself: When wounded women lash out, they most often hurt themselves. They direct their energy inward: suicide, prostitution, addiction, cutting, eating disorders.

When women DO kill, sadly, they often kill family. With some regularity, we read, in horror, of mothers who kill their children. To me this is a woman’s ultimate attack on her own soul—killing her own flesh and blood. The primary victim of these women is themselves as mother.

On the other hand, when wounded men lash out, they most often harm others. They direct their energy outward: rape, murder, assault, beheading, slaughter.

There are exceptions to these broad descriptions, of course. There are some women who harm others outside their family, but those examples pale in comparison to the women who harm themselves. And certainly there are men who turn inward and commit suicide. But I think we can all agree that the pattern of mass-killing, random destruction and even terror, is clearly a male-dominated phenomenon.

A few years ago a Kenyan pastor shared with me an African proverb: “The boys in the village must be initiated into manhood, or they will burn down the village…just to feel the heat.” This statement is directly relevant to what we have seen in Colorado Springs and so many other locations.

Men must be initiated; that is, they must be guided by older men into an understanding of their heart, their calling, their significance, and the truth that their life is not primarily about their own wants, lusts, biases and prejudices. If young men wander aimlessly without affirmation or guidance they will turn their strength to destruction, against others. They become older men convinced that their life is “all about me,” and unleash self-serving destructive energy to make sure the world notices. Even if they die trying.

The Colorado Springs shooter is clearly a deeply wounded man. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, while he’s a male, he isn’t a man. He lived the life of a recluse in the hills of Appalachia, then moved to Colorado to live in the isolation of a remote region of the state. One of his neighbors described the area as “a magnet for loners and dropouts.” He clearly doesn’t fit comfortably with society.  When he decided to turn destructive, he directed his fury outward, killing innocent lives. I hate that he decided to do it in my town.

By contrast, Officer Garrett Swasey, one of the three victims killed by the shooter, was a heroic man. He was “initiated” as a self-disciplined Olympic athlete, a trained security officer serving the campus of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and a respected, admired elder of his church. When he received the call that others were in harm’s way, he immediately responded by driving across the city, entered the building under fire, and placed his life at mortal risk in order to protect others. This is outward-directed power on behalf of others.

The public response in Colorado Springs to a man of this nature is further evidence of how much we long for good men. Over 5000 people attended Officer Swasey’s memorial service, including hundreds of fellow officers from around the U.S. Several hundred students from UCCS respectfully lined the edge of their campus along the highway as Swasey’s funeral procession, which extended for miles, passed by. One of those students who knew Swasey, was asked what she thought of him. She responded, “He was just willing to run into the line of fire.” That’s a good man.

Every society must decide how to build good men. Because the difference in the outwardly destructive impact of self-absorbed males, and the outwardly protective impact of other-focused men is so enormous.

The cultural, theological and political issues at the heart of the disturbing random mass-killings we see are terrifically complicated. What can you do individually in response? Be a man who brings security and life to as many people as possible.

  • Ask God the Father to continue to transform you into the likeness of Christ, the ultimate model of a man
  • Pursue, build relationships with, and learn from older, wiser men you admire and respect
  • Look for the younger men around you who are searching, wandering, looking for someone who believes in them
  • Bring your presence, voice and action to bear by initiating, supporting and working for societal change that protects rather than destroys

Can you or I alone change the world? No. Can we, together, stop the local violence that stares us in the face on a regular basis? Perhaps. There are many other factors that need to come into play for that to happen. But we can start with us. Then we can influence other men in our lives. We can then touch the next generation through our mentoring and fathering.

My heart aches at the enormous pain inflicted on the world by wounded men. I so deeply long to see us doing a better job of building good men. Lord, continue your work in me.

The Doghouse—How to Get There

Hey guys, next time you’re in a gift-buying mode for your wife or girlfriend, be sure to keep this helpful clip in mind. The Doghouse. Craig Glass My greatest joy in life is my family. I know, that sounds like the comment you’re supposed to make as a man and father. All I can say […]

Boys: Just Defective Girls?

Boys: Just Defective Girls?

Man, I love it when sharp women “get” men and boys, without any hint of dishonoring their own gender. I say Men Matter all the time; and the same is true for women. They matter profoundly. Sadly our culture too often chooses to honor women by demeaning masculinity wherever it shows up.

Women who are assured of their own value and gifts welcome the unique qualities that males offer, and the needs we have in order to be trustworthy, healthy contributors ot society. In 5 minutes, Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute provides clear and persuasive evidence that American schools, in particular, need to change how they guide and instruct boys, or the consequences will continue to be severe for our culture.

Click here to watch her comments: War On Boys.