Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It’s a tough time to be a man…

While walking through the library at The Dallas Theological Seminary, I stopped cold in my tracks. There, winking up at me from the section devoted to periodicals and journals, was one of my worst fears confirmed.

The cover story of New Man magazine—which claims to be “America’s #1 Christian Men’s Magazine”—was about something called “Edge-tosterone.” A brief glance at the table of contents revealed that the main article dealt with why men were created to take risks and why it’s Scriptural for them to do so. Seriously, I hate this kind of crap.

I blame almost all of this on John Eldredge. Now, I know that there are those who have benefited from his books The Sacred Romance, Wild at Heart and Captivating (which he co-wrote with his wife, Staci). And that’s great that God has used those books to minister to so many people. But that doesn’t mean we should just accept the whole message uncritically.

The gist of my issue with Mr. Eldredge and the article in New Man is this: what they’re peddling is not really true. Nothing too major, just, you know, truth. Each of these works calls men to be “what God intended” and then uses sketchy methods of interpreting the Bible to show what that looks like.

To wit, in Wild at Heart, Eldredge claims that the first man was born in the wilderness and, as a result, all men long to be back where things are wild. That cannot be shown from Scripture. Also, all men want a woman to rescue, a mission to complete and a pint of Guinness to finish off the day. (Alright, that last one I made up, but it’s pretty much the message.) They look for these things in life and when they don’t find them, they substitute other things and become miserable shells of their ideal selves. Disturbingly, Eldredge seems to find far more inspiration from Hollywood than Jerusalem and models his “ideal man” less after the Suffering Servant Messiah and more after the blood-spilling William Wallace and Maximus Decimus Meridius (Commander of the armies of the north, general of the Felix legion, and loyal servant of the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Yeah, I saw it.)

New Man seems to buy into the same concept, talking about the feminization of the church (the feminized church, apparently, is notable for its long messages, singing and emotional aspects), the need for churches to play up Jesus’ angry side as much as His loving side and man’s inherent need for risk. The article places the blame for risk-adverse men squarely on the church and calls men to rise above and become tough and rugged. Like Eldredge, New Man seems to be drawing a picture of manhood that is firmly rooted in the world around us and less in the Word before us. To top off the frustration, New Man shows the promised Scriptural support of its “risk-taking man” paradigm with exactly zero quotations from Scripture. Yeah, less than one. I looked closely.

The reason this makes me so angry is because it’s so wrong. I’m not at all against men finding God’s plan for their life, but I am against reading it into a script we wished we’d starred in. I prefer to read it in the pages of Scripture. The pages that call me to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). The pages that call me to consider the example of Jesus, not only when He drove out the money changers in zeal for the house of the Lord, but also when He “took the form of a servant” and “humbled Himself” to the point of death (Philippians 2:5-11). Perhaps those who want to re-write the paradigm of manhood have yet to learn to be content with servanthood.

This was one of Paul’s points for Christian marriage—another arena in which the He-Man Christianity Club wants to beat us into submission—in Ephesians 5. Husbands are called to “love their wives as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25, emphasis mine). Paul goes on to point out that Christ showed His love for the church by giving Himself up for her. Perhaps that’s what a man was “meant to be”: one who willingly lays down his life for others. Not in some super-heroic, Hollywood ideal, “I’ll dive and take a bullet for you” type of way, but in the simple, daily living out of life. Open her car door. Turn off SportsCenter and talk to her about her day. Take her by the hand and go for a walk. Do the dishes before she can. Then ask her what kind of a spiritual leader you’re being.

I looked everywhere for the verse that said, “By this all men will know you are my disciples: If you have a hunger for risk and a desire to piss off cliffs.” I also didn’t find “self-fulfilling adventure” in the list of the Fruit of the Spirit. The truth is we are called to be many things, kind as well as bold, servants as well as leaders. We ought to be searching for a wholistic approach to being God’s image bearers, not an unnecessarily and dangerously one-sided approach. Unfortunately, our so-called experts aren’t helping.

Let’s call men to follow the Savior’s plan for their life, not Hollywood’s. Whether that takes them into the wilderness or daily to their knees is not mine to say.

As for me, I would be better off with a stronger desire to serve others and a more humble estimation of myself. As it is, I’m already too fixated on my being supreme. When I struggle with that most, it’s not helpful for me to picture myself as some great face-painted, blood-soaked warrior. Jesus is the one returning to conquer, not me. Instead, I need to fall to my knees and ask God to conform me into the image of His Son, stripping away the impurities and making me into a vessel fit for His use. After all, I am nothing but a jar of clay and God is free to shape me into whatever form He finds most useful. And I simply pray He is pleased with me even if I never carry a sword or climb the face of Everest.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

My summer of shalom...

It’s an interesting thing, my life. That sounds a bit hubristic, I know, but hang in there.

When I started on this magical mystery tour of the wide world of theology back in fall 2004, I had no idea what I didn’t know or how I was going to ever know it. Now, almost two full years later I have the peaceful, easy feeling that comes from knowing how much I don’t know and not feeling compelled to have to know it. There is a sense of peace that comes with some self-awareness. And I am feeling peace this summer like rarely, if ever, before.

I’m currently taking Hebrew (a beautiful language that should be required learning for anyone with any wild idea of understanding the clean pages of their Bible), Gospels and next Monday I start Biblical Counseling. Two years ago, or even one year ago, that sentence would have given me a slight twitching above my right ear. But not this summer. Perhaps it’s a product of growing maturity, although anyone who knows me well could attest that that’s not it. I actually think it has to do with grace.

This summer, in the midst of all that is required of me by the Institution, Greta and I took a three-week vacation (although that was prior to class), we traveled to Liberal, Kansas to spend a fun weekend with my brother who’s playing baseball up there for the summer, I’ve gotten ahead on all my homework, I’ve read a non-seminary book (sensitive types shouldn’t click that link). Other than some nights of not getting enough sleep—which was due to staying up late and reading the Book-That-Must-Not-Be-Named—this summer has been quite an experience of shalom (which I now know how to write). This all points inarguably to God’s grace. God has seen fit to give me peace in the midst of productivity this summer, and I am deeply thankful.

Last summer, after my first full year at school, I was dry. I felt like I had just run a marathon, only to arrive at the finish line and have someone say, “Great job! You’re a third of the way!” My first year was tough. Then the second year came and was better, but still taxing, which led me to conclude that my kamikaze summer might just end me. But God has seen fit not to crush my dry bones but to set them dancing instead. This summer has been a gift of pure grace.

Again, allow me reiterate: this has little, if anything, to do with me and some swell time management skills I’ve developed. It has everything to do with God just giving me a sense of contentment with where life is and with what I’ve got going on.

I have no great way to end this, but I just thought I’d throw out some praise.

With all that said, my peace apparently doesn’t extend to nighttime. My dear wife says I’ve been sleepwalking more than ever. I can’t usually remember, so for me the peace rolls on. For her on the other hand…