old troubles, new life


written by Trevor Olson

one man or the other.

We ended the conversation about masculinity last time at the point when sin and suffering rendered a man debilitated – brought down and hard put to be/do what gives him life. The felt sense of ‘power and love and self-control’ Paul reminded Timothy he had – being loved + being loving – is a painfully long ways off for the man in debilitation. The process of becoming a different person, a new man, for whom the good life Wendell Berry has written is 'his necessity and his desire', is dearly needed. The new-man kind of man takes up the case of other's best for the same reason the old man puts it down or abstains from it altogether. It is his way. The difference maker for the new man who knows his purpose and his love – that he has love and knows his purpose – is the same as for the old man who doesn’t about either: his nature. The masculine man’s heart will voice itself in a thousand, tangible ways. So too will the man of himself. Each makes their particular mark. 

There is a evidence of the man's mark in every situation. There is a practice of it for friends, children, parents, colleagues, people I’m at odds with, people I’ve sinned against, people who’ve sinned against me. There is masculinity in work, in creativity, recreation, welcome, leave-taking, hardship, suffering, celebration. Masculinity for those of you who think this kind of conversation is nebulous and abstract, is behavioral – it is necessarily behavioral. But it also is not fundamentally behavioral. Fundamentally it is global. The invisible God breathed into the dust and that particular piece of the dust: spiritually, emotionally, physically, genetically, relationally, became a man. Amen! Masculinity then is foremost a unified reality. Ergo it is emotional, behavioral, psychological, physiological, social, communal. It is essentially personal and relational. And it is relationally and personally essential. It is a condition of the good identity, and since ours is an identity begotten of the Lord’s, it is an identity in His likeness. Which if so is to say it is an identity of kinship and communion.

Part of the reason I think a thorough-going conception of masculinity is now obscure and culturally counterintuitive is because men have forgotten much about love. We men are increasingly organized around ourselves – what you might be called the ‘cult of the self.’ Instead of the things of love we are interested in the things of me: self-satisfaction, acclaim and notoriety, power and self-determination, comfort and ease. Problem is: these things are insufficient and inedible to a creature dependent on relationship for life. If we men: mind, body and soul, are in fact created and kept in relationship, then we are becoming more and more malnourished.

 In lieu of life-giving relationship and identity we revert to life-getting relationships and identities, feeding off of the Image in other people and ourselves. Lack of participation in the good life leads to our disconnection and growing separation from it. Having turned our back on it, eventually we come to despise the good life. John in 1 John hauntingly reminds us that Cain murdered his brother "because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” The alternative to 'loving the brothers', according to him, is hating them. Comfortingly, John says that’s normal. According to him the only reason ‘we have passed out of death into life’ is "because we love the brothers." Love is new, and the resentment is old. Our culture's difficulties with the Way and the Truth and the Life then, aren't new. They're old. The normal result of the modern male sexuality – the gradual abolishment of one’s identity as a person created by and for the purpose of being in relationship into aloneliness and estrangement and opposition to 'righteousness' - is the latest chapter in the original story.

This kind of relational plundering works for a time, but, like a captured city, eventually the good in others and oneself has been consumed. If you think this is a little far-fetched consider the long-term results of men in your life who have disavowed the good life. In contrast, the normal result of a masculinity of loving and being loved by God and others is the exact opposite. It is our abolition from these very things waiting to strike us down.

The church in the last five years has done a much better job of having a conversation about the virtue of a chaste or covenanted sexuality. But it is not yet having a conversation about the building blocks of said sexuality, masculinity and femininity. Specifically it is not having the conversation that moves the conversational starting point from the modern sexual insanity and bankrupting of identity to the oncoming purpose and fulfillment men experience as they emerge into the identity of 'co-heir with Christ' and 'son of God.' The church has not yet regained a conversation of her own.

Her absence at the table where the compelling conversations about sexuality are going on has practical consequences. People who espouse the modern view of sexuality know their standpoint, its behaviors, the process of discipleship. You might say they’ve been incarnated by it. They’re all in. They make much better practitioners than the average believer. Better practitioners are better disciplers. In the male identity arena we are often dead last in successful discipleship.

This thought, as some of you may not be surprised to know, went a little longer than anticipated so I’ll finish up this topic, I promise, here in a few weeks. Thanks for reading.