There’s a certain kind of rhetoric in some corners of contemporary Christianity (mostly in the US I think) about how the church is effeminate and men need to save the church by taking the lead again and being more manly and violent and dangerous and all that jazz…
The story, which has been sold in many books and preached by good solid manly preachers, goes a bit like this: Men are created to be men and should therefore be,-unlike women who want safety and security-, wild and dangerous and violent and take risks and wrestle and strangle adult dragons with their bare hands and other everyday stuff like that… And it also seems like the biggest enemy here is men becoming like women. And oh, sometimes it’s also very important that God is a man. (Really?)
If you don’t know what I’m speaking about, just ignore me and consider yourself lucky… You’re not missing anything and reading me getting defensive about something that isn’t a problem in your world might be counterproductive, so you better read something else then. I recommend this NT Wright interview done by Frank Viola for example, or this transcript of an interview with a man who learnt a lot from Mother Theresa…
I’m an alien?
So what’s the problem? The problem for me is when people tell me what a man is, and they paint a picture that excludes me. Like those books about Mars and Venus, where I felt like I was from Jupiter, or maybe Nibiru. But it’s even more irritating when it’s Christians who use the bible, through the lens of their own culture and with a lot of conclusions that I’d never find in the verses they quote, to say that a man is created to be something that might be some (sub)cultural idea of manhood, but that will never be remotely me.
I’m sorry, I might be a straight white married male, I don’t care about fancy cars, or about machines that make noise, I don’t care about competitive sports, I don’t even care about porn, or things all men should struggle with (I have other struggles though) and I think killing things or people is just a sign of evil, not of manhood. I like beer, but not to get drunk, and we just have good tasty beers brewed by monks in Belgium… I like wine and self-made elderflower lemonade too anyway, or gunpowder tea… Playing brave-heart (like a famous evangelical writer wrote about in a book about manliness that I won’t name but which I’ve written about earlier) doesn’t look manly to me, just childish and immature….
I’m sorry, I’m 100% man, and I suppose the puppy-smashing, binge-drinking, porn-watching machos are men too, just as the book reading, coffee-slurping intellectuals… There are different kinds of people, different kinds of personalities, who all have their strong and weak sides, and their struggles and gifts. But to elevate one certain type of man above the others (mostly by people who either are or otherwise want to be that kind of man) is not constructive. And in this case it can be quite misandric in a bullying kind of way, excluding all who don’t reach your holy standard of manliness. And if this kind of thing happens with bible-verses to back it up harm may be done to the body of Christ. (Others have said enough about how the roles that are pushed unto women, or even the word effeminate itself are quite misogynist, so I won’t go into that now)
I don’t care if you are a man and like to lead, but don’t make it a rule. I don’t care if your wife likes you to lead, fine, but not every woman is like that. Me and my wife both are mutualist/democratic people, who get irritated by both having to serve as a slave or to lead alone… Hierarchy is impossible in our marriage. And I’m not a person who likes to be leading everything, the responsibility gets heavy when I contemplate it, and I like to share it with other people… I hate to be counted on to be ‘in control’ in most situations and I want to be together with people when things are hard… All people are different, but there are other lines to be drawn than between men and women…
not just men, but people are alienated
But, some say, the church is effeminate, and we need to man up. We need to be dangerous and violent and whatever otherwise we are not like God created man, look at **insert person from the bible killing bears or insulting kings or doing whatever kind of crazy things** Look, I don’t care what kind of examples you find in the bible. If they inspire you and you want to be like them. Fine, except when they lead you astray from the teachings of Christ and the fruits of the Spirit (we’ll get to that later) but there are also examples of men who liked to stay at home with their mother in the kitchen, like Jacob… And there are strong women, like Deborah who lead whole nations. Gender does not say much, in both genders there are a lot of different people, and 2 men can be more different in character than a man and a woman sometimes. (I’m much more like my wife in character than I am like people like Mark Driscoll… It’s just a difference, not a judgement of value…)
The rhetoric would say that we men have been tamed, and need to be wild again and take risks and stop being safe and blah blah blah. Now, I completely agree that we are alienated of our nature in this modern safe society in which we are like canaries in a golden cage. We are trapped in jobs that make no sense at all to make sure we can provide for our families. We have to follow a lot of petty rules and conform to a lot of nonsense.
But there’s no need at all to make this a gendered thing. All human beings in our current societies are alienated and cut off from their roots, and robbed of their connection with their selves, with nature, and with people in a community. And playing brave-heart, of having fantasies about being a biblical man who kills a lot of philistines, insults a dangerous king or slays wild animals with his bare hands is not at all helpful. Nor is it manly… It’s more immature, and the whole ‘be a biblical caveman’ approach is just an adventure in missing the point, a distraction. We see that there is a problem, but we come with a solution that isn’t relevant at all. Being more violent, making more noise, and watching fight club with a cheap beer will not bring you closer to God, nor will it make you more man…
The problem runs deeper, and is connected to the core problem of humanity, which is not at all gendered, even though different personalities (and men and women often have different personalities) might experience it differently. We are separated from God, from ourselves, from each other. And modern society has even alienated us even more from creation, which is part of the problem. We are all tamed by our own systems, which are in the end leading to suicide (as Jacques Ellul writes somewhere) and out of which we are called to live a new life, a new story… This is what the gospel is all about, and the gospel should not be watered-down with self-help ‘be a good American male’ therapy’!
Jesus said ‘follow me’, and gave us an example. He, who was God incarnate, followed the path of love until its final consequence at the cross, where the powers of the world killed Him. But those powers could not hold Him, and He defeated death, sin, bondage, evil and Satan in the resurrection! And we can share in that new life, the Way, which shatters the suicidal powers of the world, which brings life and renewal, and is a foreshadowing of the New earth and Heaven, when all evil will be erased, and we will be exactly what we were created to be, in everlasting union with the tri-une God and each other without any trace of darkness… This is what we men and women who feel caged are yearning for. And trying to fill that void with playing William Wallace the killer is just irrelevant as best, and harmful to the gospel at worst…
the spirit of the flesh…
I once almost threw a book across the room (if it would’ve been mine I would’ve really done it!) by the guy whom I already paraphrased who seemed to thing William Wallace from the brave-heart movie the best example of biblical manhood. The reason was that (after writing a lot of stuff about ‘biblical’ manhood according to him, which to me looked liked baptised American machismo and which quite bored me) he made a condescending remark about men who had learned to be nice and take mother Theresa as an example. And then it was enough… You can do what you want, but some things are going to far, like being so ignorant about Mother Theresa….
I don’t see why men, and women could not learn a lot from Mommy T (like Shane Claiborne calls her) She is one of the best examples there is of an untamed soul. She was an example of a person changed by the Way of Christ, and someone who exhibits the fruits of the Spirit. No, she wasn’t noisy, and not even drawing attention to herself, but that’s the whole point… Giving up yourself in love for others is more manly in the Kingdom than all warriors with shiny swords of all the videogames and movies together…
Let’s go to Galations 5, where the fruits of the Spirit are summed up:
5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 5:23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit.
This is the character of a Christian, and living in these characteristics as the Spirit enables them to grow in us will make us do things that go against the grain, things that are wild and untamed. But in a very different way than the ‘men are violent’ proponent preach. Violence and being rude and cultivating our ego aren’t fruits of the Spirit, but fruits of the flesh, and thinking that they’ll solve anything in our problems as Christians is misguided. As misguided as some other stereotypes that are pushed upon women too… If we live in the Spirit, the fruits will grow, and where the Spirit is, there is freedom, or liberation as Kurt just tweeted might be a better translation. Freedom from worldly expectations, cultural standards of manhood and womanhood, and liberation from the suicidal tendencies of the World and the Flesh…
Let’s not push ourselves and each other under a new slave-yoke
Let’s change our ways, for the Kingdom is here.
Let’s follow the Way, the Truth and the Light, into Life eternal,
Let’s shine a light so people might see who God is
let’s bring liberation in this dark world,
and let’s shine light where darkness reigns