We use language to describe our experience but I believe the language we hear and use is also a powerful shaper of experience. Thus, we need to use our words with care. When writing and speaking about gender and spirituality is perhaps one of the most critical subject areas in which we need to be aware of our language.

One of the purposes of my book was to provide new metaphors for thinking about men’s spirituality. The primary archetype for men’s spirituality that had been used since the birth of the modern men’s movement in the mid-twentieth century was the warrior. The message was that men should quit being so passive spiritually and become more aggressive in their faith. Richard Rohr’s men’s book entitled, The Wild Man’s Journey, revised and retitled, From Wild Man to Wise Man, and then John Eldredge’s later book, Wild at Heart, both used similar warrior language. Rohr wrote from a Catholic Franciscan perspective and Eldredge’s book became the manual for an evangelical view of Christian manhood.

I thought there must be other, more creative and constructive images we could use to help us define what a Christian man looks like. Just for fun, I sent a copy of my book—which critiqued their warrior/wild man analogy—to both of them without expectation of getting a response. I did not even get an acknowledgement from John Eldredge’s office but Richard Rohr actually sent me a personal email, and it seemed he must have read at least a chapter. What a surprise!

“I hope the book Under Construction enjoys a wide reading. I am honored to be quoted in it, and I thank you for your personal vulnerability.

I rather totally agree with your critique of the warrior archetype. It still dominates most books on male spirituality, particularly those from the evangelical Christian world. They do not have enough of Francis, the mystical level, nor the Mennonites and Quakers in their resumes. I hope you did not hear me affirming that kind of warrior. I think we Catholics, bound by so many historically bound words, become masters at saying “This is what it really means!” while still maintaining the old word for the sake of continuity and not upsetting the old guard. (Protestants do not need to do that so much!).

There is also something mind expanding and memorable when we re-define any word, although I know it also has its limitations. That is why I probably would continue to use the image of “warrior’ (Ephesians 6:13-17), but I am also fully aware that males filled with testosterone, will pull it into their all-pervasive world view of domination instead of grace. It is probably just a judgment call, and I surely would not use warrior UNLESS I could re-define it spiritually.

Richard Rohr”

The dilemma between finding new language or redefining old words is a wider issue. For example, it is now universally accepted that we talk about people and humankind, not about men and mankind. This new language more clearly includes and gives value to all people which is a core aspect of the Christian Gospel. Redefining or explaining that “men” actually includes all people is not acceptable. Language is powerful and it is important that we choose our words carefully. We will explore some new language about gender in my next post.