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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.

Perhaps the most surprising and rewarding response to my book on men’s spirituality came from my next door neighbor. We had exchanged pleasantries but both being introverts and having very different social and vocational circles, we did not have a lot of obvious common interests around which to bond until one summer when the slope between our houses desperately needed some attention. We cleared some brush together and since he had a truck we drove to get a few loads of mulch to put down. This gave us an opportunity to converse more than we ever had in the few years we had lived side by side. I learned about his life as an airplane mechanic with its geographical twists and turns from South Africa to various places in Canada. He even began to share about some of the pain in his childhood and a previous marriage and then on to present struggles with a blended family; I reciprocated by talking about my life. At one point, he stopped me and said, “I know, I’ve read your book.” This took me by complete surprise because I had never told him I had written a book and he did not strike me as the type who would read books, never mind books on men’s spirituality.

Men often find it difficult to be vulnerable, as I did when including some personal experiences in the book. Sometimes it is even more difficult to be vulnerable with the man right next door! I made the false assumption that we had nothing in common because he was an airline mechanic and I was an academic; he fixed cars as a hobby and I wrote poetry. We did not realize that underneath we had some deep similarities as men who sometimes felt insecure and had experienced pain. We had to strip off the masks of having it all together, then we had to let go of the idea that our primary identity is what we do for work, and then finally we could get to the tender layers underneath. We were both men in pain and once we saw this commonality, a deeper relationship began to form.

For most of human history men have been the warriors and leaders but I think we have finally begun to know ourselves deeper as men since women showed us the way in the feminist movement. Women began to identify their worth apart from men which made men begin to reflect on their own identity as men. For most of history men have been pathetically un-self-aware. The “#metoo” movement has confronted certain men with the pain they have caused but also the pain that men have inflicted on women in general. Harvey Weinstein may be the one on trial right now but all men are culpable to some degree. Part of why men have been violent and abusive is because we have never been able to deal with our own insecurity, pain, and brokenness; instead we cover it with workaholism, social bravado, and domestic aggression. It is vital for men’s spiritual identity to begin to acknowledge the depth of our pain and brokenness.

On the day that the most powerful man in the world ordered the killing of a rival powerful man, the need for a more peaceful men’s spirituality becomes ever more urgent. I began blogging ten years ago in an attempt to provide an opportunity for ongoing conversation after the release of my book: Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality. On a topic this specific I was barely able to average one post a month for three years (See the tab “Men’s Spirituality” for a selection of blog posts) and so the site was discontinued. The most poignant responses came via email or in person, not on the website. The first response I ever got was from Don Neufeld, a counselor and social worker in Ontario who worked with men in his practice. Here is an excerpt from his email to me.

I will begin with a sincere “Thank you” for writing this profound book. I was drawn into reading your book with anticipation and a longing, both personally and professionally, to hear the alternative voice that you have provided. In this past year of transition I have come to be more open in recognizing God’s working in my life, and I feel that here again is another way that God has opened a new avenue of understanding that has enriched my life. Your critique of the traditional images of maleness that are dominant in Christian circles models your thoughts in your chapter on reconciliation. That is, although you do directly challenge some of the prevailing thinking, your reflections of your personal struggle with the images has the potential to disarm the likely reaction from those who are strongly invested in the traditional images, and invites men into their own reflection. I believe that the section on Relational Spirituality in the last few pages of the chapter on Reconciliation is particularly relevant in our world, in our day.
Thanks again for your book and I hope we can stay connected.

We did stay connected and we finally met in person when he invited me to speak at a men’s retreat in Ontario a few years later. To make a long story much shorter, he became co-editor of a new men’s book just released a few months ago: Peaceful at Heart: Anabaptist Reflections on Healthy Masculinity. It updates my book and begins where my book left off. The promotional statement for the book states:

While there are plenty of books by men, for men, on the topic of “Christian masculinity,” these books generally fail to address men’s propensities for violence and the traditional inequity between men and women, often endorsing inequity and sanctioning aggressive behavior as an appropriate “manly” response to conflict. Peaceful at Heart cuts through this conversation by offering a uniquely Anabaptist Christian perspective on masculinity. The vision of masculinity presented in this book is more peaceful, just, caring, life-giving for men, and more sensitive to women and children than both traditional images of masculinity and the hypermasculine images promoted by contemporary popular culture and wider evangelical Christianity. Peaceful at Heart addresses men and masculinity using Anabaptist theological themes of discipleship, community, and peace. As a collaborative project by men, for men, this book demonstrates through personal narratives, theological reflection, and practical guidance the importance of collective discernment, accountability, and mutual encouragement regarding how to live as a peaceful man in a violent world.

https://wipfandstock.com/peaceful-at-heart.html

I had fantasies that my book would outsell Wild at Heart and be part of a change in how men see themselves in North America. It did not quite do that but I am hopeful that this new book and increased self-reflection by men since the “#metoo” movement will continue the trajectory toward a more humble, compassionate, and egalitarian men’s spirituality.

2020 is a milestone year for me: 10 years of blogging, 15 years of teaching Anabaptism, 20 years of biking to work at Columbia Bible College, 25 years of not buying a new pair of pants, 30 years of being a parent, 35 years of marriage, 40 years of church ministry, and 45 years of regular journaling. No one wants to read a bunch of narcissistic, self-congratulatory ramblings so I will take nine themes from the above milestones and reflect on and write about these themes for my blogs. I will add three other milestone themes to make one for each month in 2020. I write just because it is who I am and if one person connects with something, that is my reward for posting to the public.

I enjoy all kinds of writing and have had written two books, a few chapters in books, academic essays, numerous articles, curriculum, and poetry. My favorite kind of writing is pithy reflections about life and my most frequent publications have been a week of personal devotions for REJOICE! Magazine (9 since 2008). Blogging is also this kind of writing. It takes a bit more thought than a tweet and is less work than writing an article or an essay. For me, it’s just perfect. It is kind of like writing an editorial for my own weekly online magazine. So I invite you to subscribe and enjoy the ride!

January: To celebrate 10 years of blogging I will reflect on men’s spirituality, feminism, and related subjects because that is the subject that initiated my blog.

February: To celebrate the 150th anniversary of my home province, Manitoba, I will write about Louis Riel and other things Manitoban.

March: To commemorate 15 years of teaching a course on Anabaptism I will reflect on the relevance of Anabaptist thought as we near the 500th anniversary of the movement.

April: My oldest son is turning 30 so that means I have been a parent for 30 years. Anyone who has been a parent knows it is the hardest and yet most rewarding job in the world.

May: It was 50 years ago that the Beatles ceased to be a band. How has popular music impacted us in the past half century?

June: At our “Milestones” event I will be recognized for 20 years of teaching at Columbia Bible College. I’m sure there are a few nuggets to dig up on the variety of subjects I have taught.

July: Sabbath is an important practice to sustain life. I will take a break from blogging for a few weeks as I have done in the past.

August: We will be celebrating 35 years of marriage. The commitment of two people to live together in love for a lifetime is worth reflecting on.

September: Back to school means back to commuting by bicycle. It has been 20 years which makes about 4000 km a year. Stand by for stories and evangelism.

October: To celebrate 25 years of buying second-hand pants I will write about simplicity and the clothing industry.

November: I have worked for the church for 40 years in 5 provinces. Join me in reflecting on the highs and lows of church ministry.

December: I have been journaling for 45 years. In some ways blogging is a form of journaling in public so a few juicy excerpts are in order to finish off the year.

Earlier this week Christine Sinclair was named Soccer Player of the Decade by Canada Soccer. “Christine Sinclair is a once-in-a-generation athlete that has been at the heart of Canadian sport for over 20 years, but what she accomplished in the past 10 years has changed the sport forever in our country,” Canada Soccer president Steven Reed said in a press release. “Christine is the Canada soccer player of the decade and unquestionably one of the greatest and most-loved athletes Canada has ever watched.”

The previous week Bianca Andreescu was voted as Canada’s top athlete in 2019. She won three international tournaments this year climaxed by defeating the immortal Serena Williams in both the Canadian and American Open. Who can forget the scene when the teenager was comforting the veteran when the latter had to concede due to injury? Andreescu is such a class act!

These are rare honours for women. There is no equality of the sexes when it comes to professional sports. Professional sports have been the domain of men. (This is part of the problem of silence pointed out in the first Advent post. Since coaches don’t have physical prowess like their players do, they use their harsh—sometimes abusive—words as a way to dominate. If Paul was writing 1 Corinthians 14 in the context of sports he would tell the men to be quiet. For that matter, even in the context of church today I think he would tell the men to be quiet because the principle of the text is about order, not about gender. Today it is men who cause disorder! But I digress…) All the major professional team sports leagues in North America involve only men. Women who do play professional team sports earn a fraction of the salaries that men do and get sparse media attention. In fact, all of human history has been dominated by men. It has been a man’s world. Only recently has there been a move toward a more egalitarian world.

But there was a foreshadowing of this change in the Christmas story. Mary gave birth to the Son of God without the help of a man. The other main character in the pre-Christmas drama was her cousin Elizabeth. When Mary received the news of her child she sang the poetry of her female ancestor Hannah (See Luke 1:46-55 and 1 Samuel 2:1-10). What a ground leveling prophetic word! It started to happen in the life of Jesus. Although the male disciples get most of the press, Jesus did have female disciples (Luke 8:1-3). Throughout Jesus’ life he healed, advocated for, and gave dignity to women (Mark 5:21-43; Luke 7:36-50; John 8:1-11). Once, he commended a foreign woman for her courageous faith when she pointed out his racism and sexism (Matthew 15:21-28). At the end of his life when men wanted to kill him and his male disciples deserted him, it was women who stayed loyal and accompanied him in his suffering and death. The resurrection was a surprise but by now it is not surprising that it was women who first encountered the risen Christ and spread the news.

One of the great personal stories about Winnipeg’s Grey Cup win was about who the hero of the game was. In football the hero is almost always the quarterback who calls and executes the plays—and usually makes the biggest salary of any player. The quarterback is also usually imported from the United States. In fact, the last Canadian quarterback to win the Grey Cup was Russ Jackson way back in 1969.

Most of the best players in the Canadian Football League are Americans so they have special rules about having a certain number of Canadian players on every team so as to give them a better chance. Thus, in the Grey Cup game they have two awards: one for the best player and one for the best Canadian player. This year, for the first time ever in the 107 year history of the league, both awards were given to the same person—Andrew Harris. He is not a quarterback (which was a role uniquely shared by two players on the team) and not only is he Canadian but he is also a hometown boy from Oak Park High School in Winnipeg! Many fans probably know his parents and others went to school with Andrew; he is truly one of them. A humble hometown boy became the national hero.

How like the story of Jesus. The people scoffed: “Can anything good come from Nazareth? He can’t be that special. We know his mother and father!” (John 1:46; Luke 4:22) Yet this was our Messiah. Who would have thunk it? God became one of us, a humble hometown boy who became the Saviour of the world.

“Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11)

It has been a few weeks but the sweetness of the Winnipeg Blue Bomber’s Grey Cup victory on November 24 still lingers. It was an emotional—almost spiritual—moment for me. And the story-line is so like Advent and Christmas!

As a teenager my favourite sport to play was Canadian football. I also listened to all the Winnipeg Blue Bomber games on the radio and was depressed for a week after they lost a game. Thus, I was depressed a lot in my teenage years! During my twenties I was so busy going to college, getting married, starting a career, and having kids that my interest in the game waned somewhat during the 80’s when they actually won a few championships.

The Blue Bombers won their last Grey Cup in 1990. Advent is about waiting. Blue Bomber fans knew how to wait because they waited 29 years before they won another Grey Cup, and all this in a league with only 9 teams! Talk about longing. (Another story of waiting is just as deep. Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL hockey team know all about this waiting and longing. They last won the Stanley Cup in 1967 and they have struggled in the basement of the league almost every year since.)

My hopes were not high this year because I had been disappointed too many times in those 29 years. Perhaps not unlike God’s people who had waited for centuries for a leader to deliver them from oppression. Leaders came and went but none would ever bring the permanent peace and prosperity they longed and waited for. Waiting for a favourite sports team to win a championship might be trivial in comparison but just like children waiting to open a present, it is illustrative of our deeper longings.