Archives for posts with tag: men’s spirituality

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.

It is exactly 5 years ago that I finished the first draft of what was to become a “men’s book for men who don’t read men’s books by an author who didn’t.” This coming weekend I’m going to and speaking at my first ever men’s retreat. I did not write a book out of my vast experience in men’s ministry and I won’t be going to the retreat with all the answers either. I wrote for myself and other men who did not seem to measure up to the models set up by Christian men’s organizations and best-selling books such as Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. I also wrote for all the emerging young men that they might develop a more egalitarian, constructive, and pacifistic view of manhood than what had been promulgated. In my wildest dreams I believed that if a million North American Christian men would read my book, the world might be a safer and kinder place. Of course it only sold a few thousand but I know that it has made a profound difference in the lives of a few. That is enough for me.

It has been one of my dreams since the book was written to speak at a men’s retreat. I’ve done quite a few workshops and one day events, and I’ve been part of planning and speaking at dozens of youth retreats, but never a weekend men’s retreat. My first invitation to such an event happened to come from Michigan. Being a bit of a homeboy, I think I’m more nervous about crossing the border than about being at my first men’s retreat and also being the guest speaker.

I’m not sure that the answer to men’s spiritual woes is more retreats, prayer breakfasts, workshops, taking courses, or even reading books, although all can play a part in helping us understand ourselves and be ourselves in a way that contributes to SHALOM in our families, communities, and the world. I just know that almost all the stuff out there is playing to the same tune. Even the latest video curriculum I saw, “33: The Series, from the creators of the men’s fraternity” about “authentic manhood” still continues on with the old “king, warrior, lover” themes. Men! There is more to being a man than conquering evil, killing enemies, recuing fair maidens, and ruling your household! If you’re tired of this same old “authentic manhood” line, I’d like to point you to an alternative in my book, Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality. You can buy it from the publisher, Herald Press, or online from Amazon, and I even saw a copy in our local MCC Thrift Store!

How’s that for tooting my own horn? Arthur Paul Boers, who wrote the forward to the book, told me that if I believed God had given me a message I should not be afraid of doing my own promotion. “It is not self-promotion it is promotion of the Gospel.” I do hope I have good news to share for men and I pray that listeners this weekend and readers of the book will be affirmed in their manhood, especially if they don’t fit the stereotypical male mold. If you have read thus far and are unfamiliar with my project, you can read more by clicking on the tab, “men’s spirituality” on this website.

 

My daughter is taking a women’s studies class and came across this campaign calling for a new code of manhood. This is exactly what I was trying to do in my book, Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality [Click on “men’s spirituality” above]. Here’s the content of a poster from the campaign.

We believe in men but the idea of men has been distorted, limited to one dimensional stereotypes that diminish our potential and restrict our contribution to a healthy society. Gentlemen, it’s time to write a new code of manhood, a code as complex and diverse as men.

–        One that doesn’t confine us to labels like jock, nerd, hero, clueless husband or strong silent type.

–        That encourages self-respect as the first step in respecting others.

–        That celebrates strength but sees weakness in using it for harm.

–        That frees us to express all emotions.

–        That demands equality for all and inspires us to play a powerful, positive role in the world.

We believe in men. Let’s show the world what it means to be one.

In January of 2010, my first book was published entitled, Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality. At that time I paid for a website to be made and annual fees to keep the domain name, http://www.mensspirituality.com, which has been operational for 3 years. It was intended to support the book and create a forum for ongoing dialogue about the issues raised. Unfortunately, it never achieved its objectives and did not get the traffic I desired, probably due to the fact that I did not know what I was doing. Thus I will not be paying the fees for another year since I have now discovered that I can manage a website for free with more followers than before.

Despite this, the book has been a great success in my view with 2,000 books sold and numerous meaningful workshops and conversations in the past 3 years. I even got a response/review from Richard Rohr, the guru of men’s spirituality! [I never did get a response from John Eldredge.] And the conversation is still ongoing. I did a mini-retreat in Calgary last month that was one of the most successful events I’ve been part of on this topic. I continue to feel passionate about the subject matter and feel that the point I am trying to make is as relevant as ever.

For those who are unfamiliar with the book, it is still available through Amazon or the publisher, Herald Press. I have created a new menu item on this site where I have posted a collection of blogs from those 3 years as well as a number of reviews. I’m still asking the question with which I opened and closed the book: What is a spiritual man? And I’m trying to live the question.