masculinity and the self


written by Trevor Olson

joy and gladness, problem and pain.

Back to it then. To recap the first part of the conversation: sexuality in men is perceived most accurately as masculinity, the nature of it being more than anything else the giving and receiving of love. The Word and at the times the church have an achingly good vision of what life as a man is. This is not always or often the organizing characteristic of the modern man’s life, which comes with natural consequences. The lack and consequence of a lack of masculinity in men is usually now visible on every street corner. The Good Word about all this is much needed and thankfully for us the Good Word has ‘come.’ ‘Gladly assuming responsibility’ is one, good, way to talk about the masculine expression of allegiance to the command to ‘lay down one’s life for one’s friend.’

A man takes up the job of giving and receiving love because this is what gives him joy. The man is glad because he gets to play his part because joy is the natural condition of being able to take our place in the story. His time to play the part has come and he is very glad to be able to do it. His is the joy of an anticipation realized, and of having the strength to be able to make good on the desire of his heart. Getting a role, coming to the commencement of the role, fulfilling one’s role, and being in turn fulfilled by playing one’s part, is gladness and joy. Again and again. He seeks out the chance to realize the best for others and receive back the same in turn because he is this man: a keeper of men and women and boys and girls. He is a son of God.

Masculinity is for these reason I think a reclamatory way of talking about men and male sexuality because it takes the scalded pot of cultural controversy off the stove and sets it down on the cool, solid foundation of having been blessed and being a blessing. The movement is from the political and cultural and ideological to the communal, social, personal, spiritual. Think about the men in your life who are whom God wants them to be. Aren’t they just the best? Certainly their lives are some of God’s great joys and give Him back His glory. Masculinity is not about controversy or antagonism, unless you want it to be. Then it can, but that is a lesser thing. More than discord it is about the development of character and identity. It is about life.

Our language talks about a creational relationship between masculinity and men. A man’s sexuality, grammatically speaking, ‘predicates’ him: it founds and bases him. Some of you know I find inspiration in our grammar, so here’s an example. The simplest comment about a man goes something like: ‘He is a man.’ In this sentence, [He] is the subject and [is a man] is the predicate. The predicate [is a man] is, in our way of thinking, what ‘bases’ and ‘founds’ the subject, [He]. What makes this he a ‘he’, in the logic of our thought process, is that [he] - [is a man]. What I don’t want you to miss here is that when talking about men and masculinity we are talking about one thing begetting the other.

Some of you may now be wondering: okay, that’s what you think masculinity is. So what is femininity, and what's the difference? Fair question. Read about femininity and one reads about women being ‘intuitive’, ‘life-giving’ and (personal favorite) ‘immanent’, ‘responsive’, ‘nurturing’, or ‘knowing.’ One female friend, when asked for a definition said this: “we delight in bending branches inaudibly so our work is seen first.” Another said, “femininity is the power to be that goes beyond reason, in which intuition connects and makes meaning through receiving and responding.”

There’s plenty to be said here for sure, and a guest blogger may well be asked to talk about this particularly this in the future. So as to stay on topic I’ll mention just two things. The first point to make is that men and women share qualities. Much of what it means to be people we share. The other is that men and women have distinctive qualities, qualities that most bespeak of them. The farthest I’ll take this thought now is to say that when talking about masculinity and femininity as handed down to us through the Word and the good and true parts of our tradition, it does not do to talk about people in terms of our societies preferred modality of exclusion/inclusion. Rather the conversation is about what is most indicative of one person and another. Understanding the core of who someone is bears them witness and does them justice. Along this line of reasoning you might say is if I come to understand someone is a person that’s good. If I come to understand that the person is a man or a woman, that’s very good.

Masculinity is both the means and the end of dealing with shy bladder when shy bladder or any other form of insecurity is an expression of troubled sexuality. This understanding of direct cause-effect used to be a given. In Aristotelian philosophy – so much of Western history – where the goal of life is to head in a very particular direction so as to become a very particular kind of person – the means and the end were always related. Playing soccer to become a great soccer player makes you a better soccer player. In going somewhere you turn into what you’re getting to. We ‘become what we behold.’ The reason this is important is because if you believe this it means that living life, any kind of life, is peculiarly transformational. Angry men, indulgent men, passive men, man-boys who won’t become men, man-boys who wanted to mothered and not married, men who want to be friends and not fathers, all of us who maintain a comfortable distance by remaining acquaintances and not becoming friends, all are up against the same problem: we’re becoming – heading – in the wrong direction. The thing that binds all of us who have been these kinds of men together is a preoccupation with oneself. In times such as these we aren’t caught up in our purpose, but rather the opposite. Herein lies a good chunk of modern man’s problems. Self-centeredness is the antithesis of masculinity because loving the Lord and his people is the Good News itself.

A masculinity of self-absorption is often a sexuality of fear and a sexuality of self-protection. A sexuality of fear is usually a life of hiddenness and self-enforced exile, and a sexuality of shame. A shameful sexuality is always wounded sexuality, an un-affirmed sexuality, a suffering sexuality. To complicate things, much of what the man is up against was done to him. He didn't even do it himself and now he is the one to bear the consequences of someone else's sin, in his life. By definition a shamed, wounded, fearful, exiled athlete is not in good condition for their event, especially if the event is the race of life. Men in this condition won’t make it to the goal of becoming like Christ as much as they otherwise would. All of us too also know men who just haven’t made it. Period. They gave up on their families, their children, their calling, their responsibilities, what they loved, their friends, their hopes, their faith, or their lives. They checked out, blew up, lost their nerve, didn’t continue.

No surprise here. Injuries and illness interfere with athletes’ ability to perform. Inherently. A man’s pride and self-hatred – those leeches of agape love – work against his purpose: to be a man who gives himself away. Steadily. The problem with the man in the bathroom is that he has become consumed with himself, which naturally causes ‘him’ to begin to breakdown. For a man’s life to head south, all he has to do is start thinking more and more and more about himself. The rest will follow.

Next time I’ll conclude the topic. Have a good weekend everyone. Thanks for reading.