Struggling with Manhood

What does it mean to be a man? This has been a serious question I’ve asked a couple of times on this blog and The CRC Network where I blog (you can check it out here and here). As I’ve been doing my doctoral work I’ve been focusing on men’s ministry and I came across something called masculinity studies (no, seriously, this is a thing). It’s goal is to study men as feminism studies women. The same critiques used in feminist studies is used for masculinity studies.

Now why is this important?

Well, in the 1990’s men started meeting together, beating drums, and talking about old rituals of pre-industrial worlds. They met together to bemoan broken father-son relationships. They met together to try to figure out how to live and be initiated into manhood. Also in the 1990’s thousands of men filled football stadiums worshiping called in the Promise Keepers movement. Something was touched upon 25+ years ago that left some people baffled. Why are men doing this?

Some have argued that it’s in response to the loss of privilege of the male in the world. Some speculate that it’s due to the changing roles of this world. Others speculate that there is a need for men to come together with other men to experience an existential spiritual something that brings meaning in a meaningless flat world.

Robert Bly (whom I’ve referenced here before) speculates that it’s because men have become “soft males” that they find that they are in need of something more. He says that men have been feminized. John Eldredge in Wild at Heart (whom I’ve referenced before as well) agrees and suggests men are hard wired to be wild at heart (hence the book title) and should live in such a way for Christ. Stu Webber in Tender Warrior states that men shouldn’t be “soft males” but instead tender warriors. He says that men are warriors at heart and need to be tender while also strong and masculine.

That’s all fine and good, I guess. But then it leaves out some things–women and daughters. Most of the literature post 1990’s deals with men and the need for manliness and manly men muchismo to be a good Christian man. To be a Christ-follower in proper like fashion, a dude must be all macho and manly and hunt and stuff like that. It also talks about repairing father-son relatinships and being good fathers and husbands. Good and all.

But it misses one thing:

If the best way for a man to be like Jesus is to be a warrior, what about women. Jesus came not just as a man but as a human being. Jesus came as a warrior and a peace-maker. Jesus came to bring peace not the way the world sees peace but a perfect peace of God. Not just that, but in Jesus we are new creations…the old is gone, the new has come. To only focus on the warrior aspect is to lose out on the other aspects.

Yes, Jesus is a mighty warrior and I’ll stick to that. But he was a warrior for peace not just for the masculine but for the feminine as well.

So there’s a struggle with manhood. How is a dude a dude. How is a man a man. What makes a man? This is a question of the ages. Epic stories and poems and movies have been made about this topic. This isn’t something that can be all tied up in a blog post or seven.

As I study men’s ministry, I begin to see where there is a need to understand manhood. There is a need to understand what it means to be a man. Not the machismo manly man thing–I’m worried if I’m part of a Wild at Heart group I’ll get lost in a thinly wooded area behind church–but a strong but solid man. A good man. A tender warrior who also lives for Christ as a new creation.

It’s a struggle and a balance. And it’s one I’m still looking at.

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