High Heels & Masculinity

Not long ago I heard on the radio that some men would be wearing high heel shoes in a special walk sponsored by the White Ribbon Campaign Organization…

I’ve often joked about wearing stilettos, but only in the context of explaining how the German army used tanks in their Blitzkrieg military strategy during WW2…   (They lined them up one in front of the other -as opposed to advancing side by side.)  I’d then explain further that if one’s foot was stepped on with running shoes as opposed to heels, the latter would be more damaging.   (That’s how the Germans were able to perform the “break through” of their enemies’ defenses with their tanks exerting the pressure like the tip of this female footwear…)   I may have totally lost you, but then again this was not supposed to be about grade 10 history.

Back to the point…  The White Ribbon Campaign is an organization that has the primary goal of ending gender-based violence and promoting gender equality.   (This is an extremely important agenda.) 

The other night I was catching up on “Timeless” (that television show that time travels through history) and it centered on the episode of women suffrage (the right to vote) in 1919.  I was horrified at the brutality and violence of the male police officers against the female protesters, and it seemed reminiscent of what occurs with domestic and other forms of gender violence.  Yet, how does the Campaign wage war against these behaviors? 

One of the primary values of the organization is to promote a “new vision of masculinity”.  The idea focuses on men taking responsibility and leading the charge against gender-based violence.  Men wearing high heels paints the metaphor of walking in another person’s shoes.  (Although,  I bet some women might argue about the cruelty of such uncomfortable footwear and rant against this representation of femininity…)

On their website they state the following:

Through education, awareness-raising, outreach, technical assistance, capacity building, and partnerships, White Ribbon’s programming challenges negative, outdated concepts of manhood and inspires men to understand and embrace the incredible potential they have to be a part of positive change.

Toxic masculinity hurts everyone.

How can manhood in all of it’s importance, depth and nuances be labelled as ‘negative’, and masculinity as ‘toxic’?  Those negative and toxic elements are not a holistic nor definitive  representation of all it is.  Masculinity and manhood represents nearly half the people on this planet.  So, what if I were to describe a large group of people by their worst offenders?  Furthermore, where does one find up-to-date concepts of manhood?

Interestingly enough, this ‘new vision of masculinity’ is actually an old vision -minus the high heels (which I suspect panders to the gender fluid ethos of our contemporary culture).

The first man (Adam -who appears to be an obvious template of masculinity) became “one flesh” with his wife.  Upon their introduction he declared words of comfort and care, meanwhile underscoring the depth and connection between a man and woman.  He said, “You are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh…”  (Genesis 2:23)  He acknowledges his love and recognition for Eve by declaring how interconnected and intertwined they were on the most fundamental level.

In the New Testament the understanding is expressed further as males (husbands) are commanded to treat females (wives) as their own flesh (or bodies), which is a call to love, nurture and care.  (Ephesians 5:28)

Typically, we love our bodies and don’t demean, discriminate or are violent towards ourselves.  We take responsibility of this attitude, and the way we treat ourselves is the way men should treat women.  That has been the oldest and truest vision of masculinity. 

Stats about violence against women are unacceptable, alarming and sad, but masculinity is not toxic, nor does manhood require new vision.  We need to more clearly see the old one. 

What do you think?  Your thoughts and comments are welcome. 

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In Search of a Cause? 

I’m not a big admirer of classic movies, but there are some that have made an indelible impact on our culture.

Take for instance the 1955 classic Rebel Without a Cause, (which I recently got the chance to watch).  I’ve associated the film with James Dean, even though I was unfamiliar with it. His characterization of Jim Stark (not to be confused with Tony Stark – different franchise), a troubled socially isolated teenager was apparently quite identifiable to youth of the 1950s. He seemed to embody the pulse of adolescent angst against the stiff and stuffy establishment, as well as the misaligned relatability and tension between the young and the old.

The driving force behind the movie was the larger than life James Dean whose untimely, tragic accidental death may have catapulted the film further into the realm of legend. (I read somewhere that he became the first to receive an academy award nomination after death.)

Mind you, I’m not sure if the movie aged well (in terms of acting techniques) but I was fascinated at the depiction of male characters, and pondered on its (perhaps) timeless relevance.

There was the absent father of psychologically troubled teen Plato – who wound up with gun in hand in trouble with the law.  (Was it my imagination, or did he seem to have a man crush on Jim?) 

There was the ineffectual father, who awkwardly caused his daughter (Judy) to feel socially isolated, and was unable to deal with her developing sexuality. (I found those scenes uncomfortably weird…)

Finally, there was the imasculated father of Jim (cowed by a dominerring wife) who seemed to fail his son in masculine identity and leadership.

All three main characters (Plato, Judy and Jim)  experienced sad, chronic suffering due the lack of an effect masculine presence.

Despite the movie’s poor depictions,  James Dean became a familiar template of masculine coolness in our culture. You don’t have to look very far to see his replicated style and influence in many male characters in contemporary media. 

Ebert (the famous film critic) made a profoundly relevant comment saying that James Dean (along with Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley) changed masculinity in the popular culture. Men could be more “feminine, sexier, confused and ambiguous.”

Now, I’m not naively stapling the crisis of male identity solely on the backs of these sex symbols, because we are all involved in the process of change (whether actively or passively…) 

I do propose that there is a desperate need to search and shine the light on the immutable, unwavering qualities of masculinity.

If you striped it down to essentials, what are the “just the facts ma’am” of masculinity?  Or, better still, is culture the cause of masculine uncertainty? 

I would welcome your thoughts towards this discussion. 

Who is Good Enough for my Daughter?

Who is good enough for my daughter?

As I reflect on this question, I’m reminded of that scene from that old movie Uncle Buck where he (the late John Candy) goes to pick up his 16 years old niece from a party.  Being rather protective he tells a shady looking boyfriend to “hold on a sec” while he goes to get an axe from the trunk that’s “sharp enough to circumcise a gnat…”   It was quite funny to watch the response of the young man…

You’d think with my having three daughters I’d carry around three axes, or at least one shotgun, but who am I kidding, I’m not a violent person.  Furthermore, I’m not one of those guys where “no one is good enough for his princess…”  Nonetheless, I have a very clear description of the type of young man who is not good enough.

The story of Jephthah (in Judges 11 in the Old Testament) is one of my favorites.  He was a young man whose purpose came off the rails, and was misaligned -largely through no fault of his own.   This young man was “illegitimate” meaning that his father conceived him with another woman that was not his wife.  When daddy died, he was no longer welcomed in the family by his brothers and was unceremoniously expelled from his community.   (Culturally, for that time period, family was everything and he became homeless in the biggest way.)

Jephthah chose then to go a place named Tob.  Although the name of this place meant “to be pleasing, or a good thing” it was far from that.  He fell among (and I quote)worthless men“.  No, this is not a Biblical mandate to confirm what you have suspect all along that men are dogs…  (But that’s not true…dogs are actually quite nice animals…)   All joking aside, Jephthah began an Old Testament thug lifestyle of stealing and killing to make a living – “raiding” for personal gain, as opposed to being a mighty man of valor God had created him to be.

Going back to the point, the Bible identified that there are some men who are “worthless”.   What a harsh thing to say!   But, this idea is not about being no good because of personal baggage, issues, or even merely “bad behaviour.”  Jephthah had all of these, but he was not a “worthless” man -although he wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice of suitors…

Worthlessness, as I understand it does not mean that they had no value as human beings -for God loves sinners, but they were worthless in the sense that they brought no value or worth to those that they were around.  They brought negative value, pain, addiction, and waywardness.  They had no investment in the well-being of Jephthah, nor were they a positive voice to guide him back to his true identity and purpose.  Those guys were takers, not givers. They just wanted to use Jephthah for what he was – muscle, a good fighter, and a good source of income.

As a father, I don’t want anyone that brings no value attached to the life of my children (male or female).

Obviously, we as men and teenaged boys aren’t perfect, (I get it, I know that I’m not), therefore, will I cut some young men a break when it comes to my daughters?  Probably not.  Jesus preaches, come as you are, and he’ll fix you, but my daughter isn’t Jesus.   It’s not their job to fix any worthless man (or boy).  Besides, it’s hard to be connected with someone else when one does not know who or what they are.

To any young men out there (or parents of young men), I think that they may need to work on discovering, developing and living in their true identities.  They’ll definitely need to “Let Sleeping Giants Lie” (take a look at that post if you haven’t already.)  And, when Jesus says that he’s worked on them enough, maybe that’s when it’s time to get into a relationship.

Do you agree or disagree?  Am I way off base?  Your comments and thoughts are welcomed.

 

Israel

It’s Not a Good Time… 

​It’s not a good time to be a man who has sexually assaulted a woman, (nor should it have ever been).  Unfortunately, there has been (what seems like) an eon of bad and criminal behavior that has been sanctioned or largely ignored by my male influenced society… But no more, it would seem in our current cultural  context.

Mighty men are falling (be it on the left, right or center) by the judge, jury, and executioner of public opinion.

Let’s be honest, for some men we kind of like seeing their chickens coming home to roost. (We never liked those roosters to begin with…) Others, well… we’re kind of disappointed to hear of the accusations.

As a matter of fact, we hear of men being involved in sexual discrimination, assault and violence so frequently  that it borders on the commonplace.  However, this behavior is not characteristic of authentic masculinity.  (I think that needs to be said.)  

Masculinity has no room for chauvinism, sexism, misogyny, abusiveness of any kind,  and gender-based violence.  (It seems hard at times to grasp this truth, especially when one listens to the lyrics of what passes for popular music.) 

Young men, it’s not cool, nor ethical to disrespect women.  (In spite of whatever your favorite rapper or hip hop artists says.) 
Furthermore, your actions follow you and will eventually catch up with you – even if they are hormonally induced or youth influenced.  (There is no Young Offenders pass that will stop the consequences of bad behavior.)
Moreover, nowadays, dying is probably  the only way to truly get away with any thing… (but then there is a Divine judge to deal with at that point…) 

Males are called to treat women as how they would treat their own bodies.  It’s a wise,  old directive, but a true one, and it’s a good time reflect on it.

God Loves Bad Men and… 

God loves men who are addicted to pornography, and God loves men who are not. God loves men who are good and loving to their wives, and God loves men who are not.  The uncomfortable reality (to those who are slightly self righteous) is that God loves good guys and bad guys…

In light of this opening statements, one must wonder… Is God conflicted?  Of course not.   But, wherever your theological paths may originate, it leads us to the larger truth which is that God loves men.

So, does your behavior matter?  (Hold that thought for a second.)

God identified David as a man “after His own heart…”   But David was guilty of marital infidelity- he saw a naked woman, lusted after her, and found a way to get her into his bed.

He was guilty of a murder conspiracy- he found a way to get Bathsheba’s husband killed so that he would be unintangled by loose ends.

He was guilty of being a poor, ineffectual father who let too many things slide which ultimately ripped his family apart…  (Those are the plain, ugly facts.)
“After God’s own heart”?
Does that mean that God was “fine” with his behavior?

No, actually, what is meant was that David had a heart towards God, he sought after God’s heart, in spite of his short comings.

The overlooked and uncomfortable reality is that having one’s heart towards God ultimately bears more fruit than one’s action.

Track with me here a second before you pick up stones…

Having your heart’s desire towards God is a path way to redemption, forgiveness and transformation.

When we read the book of Psalms, we don’t think about martial infedelity, murder or bad parenting…   We see a book (so beloved by believers)  that lifts our hearts and minds towards God.

Yes, bad behavior does matter, there must and will be a payment, but if you’re a believer, Jesus balanced that ledger some time ago.

Song number 12 on my Life Sound Track is called “You Are More” by Tenth Avenue North, and it has a chorus that really resonates with me:

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,

You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,

You are more than the problems you create,

You’ve been remade.”

What do I hope to accomplish with this blog? Well, if you are less than perfect, if you struggle with hurts, hang up and addictions, if you’re not a good man, God loves you.  There is hope for whoever you are, and wherever you’re from.  You just need to start with turning your heart towards God.

This idea of focusing or not focusing on behaviour is probably an uncomfortable  slippery slope…    

I’m not trying to divorce behaviour from choices or consequences.  What I’m getting at, however, is that pointing out or focusing on behaviour rarely ever changes it.  You see that with the Old Testament “Law”, right?  (The Law couldn’t save, it could only highlight sin…)  

We know that behaviour is important because it’s all part of living out meaning.  You live out meaning based on how you behave, and that comes about by the way you think, (conscious and sometimes unconscious).  Addressing the thinking, as the foundation underneath, is important.

When I’m writing these blogs to reach men and young men, there are some young men who are engaged in bad behaviour, and instead of pointing that out, I want to make the focus about the thinking and what it means to be masculine.  Maybe that is a more relevant conversation to be had.  If we can turn our hearts to God, our behaviour will follow.   (Do you remember the move “Field of Dreams”?  “If you build it, they will come!”)

Yes, I was trying to drum up a little bit of “shock and awe” with the topic.  However, the theological point that underscores this entire discourse is that of grace and love.  God loves all people, and he wants them to become his sons and daughters.   The fact that God loves good and bad men really focuses on the importance of relationship.  It brings hope to guys, no matter where you are… you can still approach and explore that spiritual aspect of your masculinity.

Masculinity is about living in relationship with God as He helps you (and me) live above mere motions, reactions or the “nature or nurture” of life…

Know this, we are not shackled to bad behaviour.  On the other hand, we are not self righteous saints without spot or wrinkle.   Rather, as we live with God, that relationship can and will effect you and shape your own choices and actions…

You will find yourself living in your purpose, and living in the meaning and roles of manhood, and living in relationship with God in the physical, social, and spiritual arenas of your  masculinity.

The Justice League and Jesus 

​Apparently, wealth may be the most enduring super power of them all… (at least according to Batman…) 

I got the chance to watch the latest DC offering: The Justice League.  While I enjoyed it, (and I promise you they’ll be no spoilers here), I was moved in an odd way to maybe not anger… but to marvel (no pun intended).  To marvel at what, you ask?  

I was a little irritated because despite Superman having rescued world, despite he being the people’s hero, despite he being a beacon of hope for humanity, despite he giving his life, which was the ultimate sacrifice…the bank still foreclosed on the home of his grieving single mother?  Seriously? 

Did anyone at the institution think that maybe showing a little compassion would be at best human, or at worst a nice public relationship gesture?

It underscores the vivid reality that a man has to provide some kind of legacy for his family – whether he’s super or not.  Legacy is simply something that lives on after we are gone. 

Abraham had a strong sense of legacy.  He saw the future through the eyes of God and had the foresight, provision and planning to positively impact the people in his family (just ask Lot).  

Unfortunately, his younger nephew made poor   real estate choices, and landed in Sodom, hot water, and in captivity. 

When Abraham heard of his predicament, he used his pre-trained (black ops) personal security force to rescue Lot.  (You should check out his entire story in Genesis 12-14.) 

Now,  Superman may share some similar narrative messianic qualities, but if his character  indeed bears any parallels to Jesus…well I’ve got to say that Jesus did a better job making sure his mother was taken care of.

As well as discovering our legacy as young men, developing it in the daytime of our masculine strength, and protecting it in the twilight of our maturity, we as males need to take a note from Jesus’ playbook.  We’re tasked with protecting and providing for our families, or in other words, possessing a little Batman-like “contingency planning” mentality.   

I feel confident that we are all capable of doing this.  What do you think? 

A Few Good Men

One of the key things about understanding the Genesis Man is that we are tasked with living out, and living in specific relationship Roles.  We may be husbands, fathers and Mentors, but also important is our roles as friends.  I would argue that just as boys need the influence of men to grow and be healthy, men need other men in their lives.  We need real friends that influence us on deep, personal levels.  God has commissioned each of us to speak into, and build onto the lives of other men.

In the last 12 months, other than my father, there are three men who have had a significant impact in my life; Gerald, James and Richard.  During the last 12 months, I have gone through the season of sickness and death of my older sister, crossing my own personal Rubicon of ministry, life and the future.  I have to admit that it was a time that I couldn’t see God, but clung desperately to His hand in the darkness.

When I sat back to reflected on this, Gerald -a friend and minister at my church (Abundant Life Gospel Centre), came to mind.  What I remember the most was that he embraced me as a son at a specific moment in time when I needed that physical contact.   I didn’t need a hi-five, fist bump or encouraging word, I needed an embrace.  Even as adult men, there are times when we feel alone and isolated by life circumstances and emotions, and we need the comfort of a trusted male figure.   Even without his knowing, it left a lasting impact on me.  (It is also comforting to know that he constantly lifts me up in prayer, and thinks highly of me.)  When we as men allow God to influence our actions and choices, it is simply amazing the kind of influence we can have on one another.

James has always been a kindred spirit, and perhaps is the most relatable male in my life.   We talk movies, comics and strange scientific theories.  There was a specific moment when I needed a presence in my life and he was there.   I was at the altar praying, shell-shocked by the deteriorating future of my sister’s existence.   I asked God for his comfort, but secretly wanted more than a spiritual experience.   (Sometimes Christians have a way of making everything super spiritual…)   So, I told Him that He didn’t have to send someone to pray with me because I had faith, and He was enough… but if He did send someone…  Well before I knew it James appeared out of nowhere behind me.   I don’t know what he said to God on my behalf, but a greater presence was never more needed.  Being there for someone has more of an impact than we can ever realize, but it’s hard to know when you actually need to be there…  Therefore, we should avoid the dangers of social hibernation and spend time with each other.

Richard has been a high school buddy since forever.  He has been the longest and sole surviving relationship from that part of my personal history.   Occasionally we get together and talk… I mean, really talk.   Even though he lives a distance away we keep the physical connection when we can.  We break bread, watch the odd movie and provide a nostalgic link to a life that once was…  (when he had better knees, and I didn’t have to take my glasses off to see my cellphone…)    We’ve always talked and hung, and I’m pretty sure that I could admit things to him that I couldn’t to anyone else.

After my sister’s funeral, we met for dinner.   In my maze of confusion and alien emotions (I didn’t even know what grieving was), he truly was a lifebuoy.    When I didn’t know whether God would make life go “back to normal”, or if he was transforming me somehow… without a shadow of doubt he knew it was the latter.   (That truth is still being unpacked even right now.)   We need friends who can see things clearly, especially when our own vision is impaired by the blows and jabs of everyday existence, and unprecedented experiences.

What am I saying?   We need a few good men in our lives, even if we have wives or girlfriends.

The image of a Greek phalanx formation has always struck me as the way we should live our lives as men.  This army advanced in lines of soldiers with shield in left hand and spears in right.   Your shield protected the man on the left, and the guy on the right protected you with his.   Together they were a successful victorious fighting force the ancient world had never seen.  I use this analogy only to show the inter-dependency and strength of men when they move together and support one another.  When we are alone (if you would allow me another analogy) we are sitting ducks, in danger from sniper attacks…  How many of your friends struggle with addictions and the constant threat of family implosion due to the pressures they face?  God never meant  for us to go it alone.

I encourage you to find and rely on a few good men.  They are out there.  We are out there.  Whatever you may be facing -good, bad or ugly- have the courage seek out and accept support.  Open avenues of communication and make a positive impact in someone’s life.

 

Israel