Rubicon

The Rubicon was the name of a little stream with huge significance.   It marked the border between the will the General Julius Caesar and that of the Roman Empire.   Rome had recalled Caesar from his military conquest to come back to Rome without his army.   It didn’t take much for the power hungry general to convince his adoring army to come with him back to Rome to defend his honour.  With the crossing of the Rubicon Caesar joined the notorious group of generals who turned the Roman army against Rome.  Therefore, the Rubicon has become a historical boundary that signified “the point of no return.”   Once Caesar and his army went past that little stream, his imperialistic intentions were crystal clear.

There are times when we all approach our Rubicons and we are forced to make a decision whether or not to cross…   But what happens when the Rubicon comes to you when you’re standing still?   The death of my sister from cancer (earlier this year) was my own personal Rubicon.  It came to me, and I was forced to cross.

A lot of my life systems came “off line”, and to a grinding stop.   Family routine, work life and ministry function all became collateral damage of this personally unprecedented event.   When time started moving again family routine commenced – my kid’s lives needed to get back to normal.   I returned back to work after some time off – I needed my income.   However, ministry function seemed to fizzle like sails without a whisper of wind.

However in reality, although things seemed to be slowly getting “back to normal”, there was nothing normal about it.   I felt impatient with my family, unmotivated at work, and still ministry appeared shell shocked.

So, what is a man to do when he faces life shaking events?  I thought that perhaps I needed someone to talk with…

Before deciding to see a professional counselor, I was surprised at how my own cultural, male and spiritual biases pushed back at me.  As someone from a Caribbean background, how could I talk “my business” to a complete stranger and further more pay a decent amount of money to do it!?  (When the counselor asked, “What brought me here?”  I felt like saying, “Not my health coverage!”) 

Spiritually, I wrestled with the (mistaken) notion; Aren’t you suppose to “pray it through”?  Isn’t it just supposed to be between you and God?   As a man, how could I possibly be so vulnerable and “share my feelings”?  Isn’t that so… weak?  Shouldn’t I already have it figured out?  Regardless, I ignored those questions because, well…mental health is…health.  Besides, how could I be the man God wants me to be if I wasn’t firing on all cylinders?

So, a man has got to do what a man has got to do…

Amidst the push back from my own cultural, spiritual, and male biases…  I did see a counselor a few times.  Do you know what?  I’ve not regretted it.  Proverbs 11:14 says, “in a multitude of counselors there is safety”, and that reality has never been more true to me as it is now.

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Sexual Integrity

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only (Christian) guy to have struggled with lust, and the only guy (even now) that needs to be careful of what is consumed (lest it leads to places of failure).

 

Of all the men and young men I’ve talked and mentored; only one has ever actually flat out admitted that he struggled with pornography.  (I’m reasonably certain he’s not the only one…)  When I was  younger and and attended University, it was a continual challenge to avoid watching stuff that was lustful and contained nudity.  Yet, today young men and men (Christians) put on a façade as if those struggles don’t really exist.

 

Maybe in our collective minds men (in our modern context) have redefined pornography to include only that which is “XXX” rated, but “soft porn” (a classification that’s highly deceptive), and general nudity is acceptable…  Also, maybe that part of our lives (our hidden habits) are too taboo… too shameful…   It’s just too uncomfortable to let someone else know what really goes on behind our scenes…

But take comfort!  The Bible doesn’t seem to shy away from sexual issues.  Actually there are some rather explicit scriptures that are definitely not read Sunday mornings, and are liable to make the most seasoned congregation blush!  Take for example Genesis 38.  It narrates a series bizarre circumstances of sexual exploits, but that nevertheless highlights important lessons on sexual integrity.

Genesis 38 starts out with the main character Judah (one of the 12 sons of Israel) departing from his familiar environment, and then initiates a sexual relationship with a foreign woman.  (I really have to wonder if he married for sex, because almost in the same sentence it says that he got married and had sex.  Read chapter 38 verse 2 and see if you get the same feel.)

Anyway, his wife conceives three times and Judah then has three sons.  In a somewhat “Klingon-like” fashion, the Bible states that ‘son number one’ was wicked “so the Lord put him to death.”  (NIV)  So now Tamar, the wife that Judah had selected for his first son, suddenly became a widow.

The custom at that time was to keep the family in the family, therefore a male sibling was encouraged to marry his brother’s widow.  However, the second son died also (at the hand of the Lord) because…well… he preferred to just have sex, rather than to be fully committed in the process of family responsibility and continuity.  (Read chp 38:9-10 for more clarity.)  He was selfish.  He felt that any child he would have had with Tamar would not be his, therefore he took the necessary steps to make sure she would not get pregnant…

 

[Sidebar: Guys… sexual integrity matters outside and inside marriage.  God was clearly displeased with son number two and punished him with death.  God does not approve of selfishness, sexual integrity matters.]

 

Fast forward… Judah’s wife eventually dies.  Tamar is still a widow (her biological clock, by the way, is still ticking…)  Son number three is still available.

 

I think that what happens next in the narrative highlights this lesson; The lack of sexual restraint leads to complicated problems.

Judah goes to “Young Street” and solicits sex with a prostitute or a “harlot” -that’s the term mentioned in the Bible.   It is interesting to observe the anonymity surrounding sexual dysfunction.    I’m not sure if all prostitutes wore veils, but this one did.  Judah didn’t care what she looked like, he was willing to buy sex, and she was willing to gain from it.  As a matter of fact his friend (Aullimite) acts kind of like a “john” because Judah sends him (after it was all over) to go and make payment.

Now I’m not sure what the time frame was between his wife’s death and his marketplace sexual encounter.  Perhaps Judah’s mental state may have been saturated in loss and grief, and we know that poor sexual choices are definitely made in periods of emotional confusion and vulnerability.  However, the “payment” is always worth more than the experience.  Specifically, in this context, the Bible said that she wanted Judah’s “signet and chord and staff”, which were essential elements of his familial and social identity.

 

By the way, (surprise, surprise) it turns out the “harlot” was his daughter-in-law Tamar.   Yes.  Judah had sexual relationships with his sons’ wife.  (Yuck!)

Let’s pause at this cliff hanger…

Joseph… A Mid-wife?

I was reflecting and thinking about Joseph from the New Testament.  By the way he was a wonderful step-father and a committed man of God who was filled with integrity.

So the story goes that Mary and Joseph couldn’t even get a room, and they ended up camping out in a stable or cave, or something like that.

Now the Bible doesn’t specifically say this, but I have to believe that Joseph helped in the delivery of his step-son Jesus.  Joseph was perhaps the New Testament’s first male mid-wife!  (That kind of involvement in family life for a man in that culture and that time period would have been unheard of.)

I know that the Bible doesn’t say it specifically, but it also didn’t say that some other midwife, or female help in this delivery.  Could Mary have done it all by herself?  That is unlikely.  I was present at the birth of all 4 of my children, and even though my wife is amazing she (like any other woman) needed an extra hand in delivering our children.  (A hand…and maybe some oxytocin…)

 

When you think about it, if Joseph was a participant in this delivery, it speaks to something incredible in regards to the role of men in their families that goes beyond provider and protector.   It reflects on men being present for any aspect of family life.  (No matter if it’s perceived as “feminine” or “women’s work”.)  I think we can accept the importance of men taking on more responsibility in the home.

 

I was considering how Joseph could embody our identity as modern men in this generation.  Men of this generation (from what I’ve seen) partner with our spouses in taking care of the home and the children.  We do so in a way that has been in stark contrast with our predecessors from the 1950’s and even the 1960’s.  (So ladies, cut us some slack…sometimes!)

 

So whatever, and however God desires us to participate in, and partner with our spouses in our home and families, as men we need to do it as the will of God.  It may be delivering a child (hopefully not) or making their lunches.  We are a new kind of men in today’s society, today’s generation.

(If you’re not married, take notes.)

One more thing, Joseph was a man of sexual integrity, and I deeply admire that about him.   He never touched Mary (sexually – till after the birth of Jesus), and it was not because he was commanded not to, but he put his own desires behind the well being of his wife and God’s plan.  (Men, we won’t die if we don’t have sex.)

Speaking of sexual integrity, next time I want to talk about what the Bible says about sexual integrity through scriptures you have never heard read on Sunday morning…  Trust me, I’m telling you the truth.  (Try Genesis 38 for size…)

Would all the good men please stand up…

I was speaking to a single mom not too long ago, and she spoke rather candidly about the frustration she was experiencing with the father of her son.  (And rightly so, since he was failing on many fronts…)

She was also somewhat deflated by short fallings of the numerous (it seems) poor fathering examples (of men) found in the Bible.

David, Noah, Lot, Jacob, and Abraham (who also made some poor choices), and the list goes on…    From favouritism to infidelity and in some cases incest (yuck),  I agree some of the examples are quite hard to read.  (Should I even begin to mention others biblical characters who were less than stellar husbands?)   However, interestingly enough, still God had some positive things to say about some of those very same men.

I can understand how this could leave some women scratching their heads… (even when trying to make sense of these behaviours in the light of cultural and social historical norms)

So here’s the sacrilegious question, was God being sexist?  Does God care about proper fathering?

 

Here are my thoughts, and they are just my thoughts…

First of all, because God chose to highlight these men, (with bad rap sheets – from our vantage point) it doesn’t mean that other good fathers and husbands didn’t exist.   It doesn’t mean that they were a representational cross-section of all males from those time periods.   The Bible is not a survey.  These men don’t necessarily represent a cultural “riding” or some kind of social ratio.

So why did God chose some of these men (for example David -a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery; Noah “walked with God” yet was guilty of alcohol induced incest)?

Why?  That’s a good question.

Here’s a consideration, perhaps the overwhelming currency in the Bible is that of redemption and restoration,  and with in the best of all of us (male or female) is the very worst of us…  but God makes the difference.

 

In any case, men, you may have made a spectacular train wreck of your lives, leaving the carnage of damaged people and emotions (really, that’s not good), but God is good.

I’m always optimistic that whatever has happened in our lives, (yes, consequences will be faced) God can redeem and restore us,  and will say positive things about us.

One comedian said; It’s unfair that women call all men dogs… After all, dogs are so loyal…

 

God can help us aspire to live out and live in the qualities of true masculinity, and true manhood found in the Genesis Man.

 

One more thing men…November is “Movember”!  Be proud, grow out those mustaches and let’s bring awareness to the issue of Prostrate Cancer.

Two things I don’t get… One that makes sense

There are two things I don’t get, and I come across them occasionally, primarily because I spend at least two and a half hours per day commuting to work.  Both are things that I’ve noticed on peoples’ cars.

 

First of all, I’ve got a bit of a bias against bumper stickers.  I figure that there are cheaper and better ways to advertise or communicate your message than on your car.  After all, it’s a car not a bill board right?  No, I’m not talking about the stickmen families (although, I’m not sure if I get that either.)   Have you seen the “Jesus fishes”?  They are symbols that the New Testament churches used (it was in the shape of a fish, and it referred to the word “fish”).

“The meaning of the word and symbol is very clever. The word ichthys means fish in Greek, but the letters are also the initials of five Greek words that mean “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” (Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter).”  Sometimes this symbol was used to help persecuted Christians to secretly know where meetings would be held.

 

I get it.  It’s an evangelism tool, kind of.  What I don’t get are the “Jesus Fish” with the legs at the bottom.  It’s really an expression of Darwinism and evolution, is it not?   I can understand extreme passion of modern day Christians who would opt to place this symbol on their cars, but why would you put a “Jesus Fish” with legs?  At least a Christian’s passion is about God, and Christ and faith and devotion…

 

What possible passion and fanaticism could one have about Darwin?  Sure, they may have an inkling for what they believe is truth, but is there no other warmer or more emotional truth?  Who do you thank for a new born baby, or a nice summer day?  Darwin?

 

What about the second thing?

 

Well, I almost have to blush to even mention it.  You may not see them often, but have you seen the trucks where individuals have put well… male scrotum underneath their vehicles?   I’m not even sure where one buys this type of truck accessory.  I’m not sure I want to know.  (I’m not sure if it’s as bad as those cars with eyelashes on their headlights.)

 

But, really??

With the much needed discussion of what it means to be a man, and what is masculine, and what is manly…I’ll tell you this; it’s not a truck. Being masculine, and being a man may not always be the same thing, but I can guarantee this… a truck is not a man.  It’s ridiculous, it’s border line offensive (as a man) and mostly weird.  Sorry, that’s just the way I feel.

 

Now, being a “Genesis Man” man is the recognition that the core of what we are (men) revolve around the concept of relationship: relationship with God, relationship with people, and relationship with the environment.

 

One thing I do get, that has nothing to do with vehicle paraphernalia, is the solution to much of the problems plaguing young men and men.  It’s Mentorship.  Mentorship is a key element in relationship, and it flows out of the idea of the importance of relationships as noted in Genesis 2.

 

 

 

Lastly, from this Summit we will be creating the Durham Mentorship Employment Network.  More information will follow.

 

See you there.

 

Israel
 

The Wire, Violence, Sex and Drugs…

What’s happening in Baltimore?  Right now, it’s more complicated than this blog could possibly explain…

 

However, Baltimore was also popularized with the rendering of the 2002 – 2008 HBO television cop show called “The Wire”.  To be truthful, this is not a show that I would recommend.  There were incredible amounts of profanity, violence, sex and drug use.  Interestingly enough though, the use of profanity, violence, sex and drug use (depicted in the series) are symptomatic to the desperate social, economic conditions of perhaps “any given Sunday” inner city environment.  I’m guessing that the producer opted in creating a realistic, raw, adult representation of what things really look like.  (It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.)

 

The viewer realizes very quickly that every character is more than just flawed, and they are great distances from perfection.  As a matter of fact, there are equal opportunities of corruption, and genuine bad stuff portrayed by men and women, gay and straight characters, politicians and citizens, cops and criminals.  There is no one who is good.  The moral line is shaded and elusive.   The “good guys” aren’t always good, and the “bad guys” aren’t always bad.   Moral relativism rules the day like the t-rex hero of Jurassic Park (the first one, which incidentally was the best.)

 

One consistent observation I noticed was the lack of fathers.  (It was glaringly obvious during a heart breaking Season Four which focussed on education, following a group of young male characters and there descent into manhood.)    Mind you, there were plenty of male influences, but many of them were bad, and few were good.   The critical mass of positive male influences was critically low.   (I wonder if the lack of direct fathering, positive direct fathering,  is not the greater issue in these circumstances.)

 

We need an army of men to lead our sons and mentor the fatherless into authentic manhood and masculinity which focuses on relationships in three realms:  relationship with God, relationship with people, and relationship with their environment.

 

Relationship with environment refers to the reality in Genesis chapter 2 that God made purpose and work for Adam (the first male prototype).    God created the “garden” before He created the man.  God had every intention for Adam to take a “tending” role in his environment.

 

Purpose.  Meaning.  Employment.  Spiritual Relationship.   (They seem to be lacking at times.)  Are these our Achilles heel?  Does this lack account for some of the failure amoung men and emerging men encounter?

 

Fast forward to Baltimore.   The issues are real, deep and complicated, but I feel that taking up more responsibility of mentorship and leadership as men must be at least one of the keys to the solution.

 

In The Wire, does art imitate reality, or  is it the other way around?  It’s debateable, but here is an interesting conclusion…

 

Despite the language, sex, drug use and societal despair, in the end, the earthly hopelessness of our insurmountable social problems can find optimism in the divine, within relationship with Jesus Christ.

(Kind of a weird thing to take away from the show… eh?)

 

This is the last comment:

 

Saturday May 23, 2015 the Men’s Group at Erie Street Gospel Centre will be hosting our 3rd annual “Young Men’s Summit.”   (in Oshawa at 17 Erie Street, 1-4 PM)   The focus will be on Mentorship, Employment and Purpose.  Join us as we engage in a conversation with our special forum guests.

Please register at themenandmaleyouthalliance@gmail.com or call 905-433-1438 -as a free lunch will be provided.

 

Sincerely,

 

Israel

A Life Changing White Building

Erie Street Gospel Centre is a white building on an obscure street in South Oshawa.  It has, however, been a significant catalyst in my growth into maturity and understanding of masculinity.  You may find it interesting the way it has impacted me.

One of the main challenges for young men is to know who they are.  While growing up in Oshawa, my church was predominantly black.  At that time I was one of the six black students in my high school of about maybe 1200.  I have never (ever) had a black educator (teacher, librarian, principal, professor or TA), subsequently, my church was the one place where I was not a minority.

It was a place where physically (and socially) I fit in.  As a person (specifically an immigrant) without a personal “felt” history (be it West Indian or Canadian and definitely not American…), it (my church) satisfied me with a feeling of belonging.  Lately, I’ve often reflected on this.

(Mind you, Erie Street has become increasingly more multicultural -since those days- and it provides the opportunity for anyone to fit it.)

Young men have difficulties navigating relationships and are in much need of positive male influences.  My church on a regular basis brought me into an environment of relationships.  I had many dads, moms, and brothers and sisters.

Although, like most churches, the population of females were higher than that of males, the men who were in my life were masculine, strong and spiritual.  (Thinking back, I remember an older man – Mr. Belnavis, who despite his age then and now could dislocate your shoulder with a powerful hand shake!)  I never new my own grandfathers, but I think of him as one.  I found those relationships in the community of Erie Street.

(It makes me consider that with the population of young men who may not regularly attend church in today’s era, is it a wonder that there is a chronic need for mentorship relationships?)

These were the people (both men and women) who kept me on track and accountable in my everyday life.

By the way, I met my wife at there.  Enough said.

The lack of purpose and focus is a labyrinth which threatens to starve many young men before they reach the light of manhood.   Growing up, my church promoted (and it still does) a legacy of opportunity, starting with my late father-in-law Bishop Newton Cole.  In comparison to other churches, our local church was an anomaly, and perhaps it still is even today.

Our current lead Pastor Kevin M.A. Cole, on every level embraces this way of serving and leading.  The mandate is simple, God gets all the glory, and He’s in charge.

To be honest, I’ve never run enthusiastically towards ministry opportunities, but this environment provided a soil which allowed me to grow into my “sweet spot”, which is, my purpose with God –which is connecting, and mentoring and leading males.  If you know me, you know that this is what makes me tick.  In this place (the white building on an obscure street in Oshawa)  I found my purpose and am developing into a “Genesis Man”…

HAVING SAID THAT…

Our third annual “Young Men’s Summit” will be happening Saturday May 23, 2015 at Erie Street Gospel Centre (17 Erie Street, Oshawa) from 1 – 4 PM.  Our focus will be on Mentorship and Employment.  We will be engaging in a Discussion Forum to explore these concepts and other relevant male issues.

After this Summit, we are looking forward to the birth of our very own Durham Mentorship Network.  It will be an entity that will function as an informative liaison to meet the needs of men and young men in our communities.   We are looking for various professionals who would be interested in becoming a part of this data base.   Email me if you are interested.

Finally, please RSVP your presence to the Young Men’s Summit as soon as possible.

Boys 12 and up, young men, and all men are invited.

By the way, there will be a free lunch.