And just like that, we’re all done.  Back around the first of the month, my beloved undertook a month-long blogging project.  Out of love and support, I decided to tag along.

I have to confess that it has been a challenge.  It took a while to get back into the routine of writing, and it took all month for me to figure out something that I wanted to say.  Truth be told, there were many days when it was nothing more than a discipline.  Meaning the only reason that I did it was because I had committed myself to doing it.  And I have to say, that’s not all bad.

Lately, I’ve been in a conversation or two about the the value of disciplines.  And while “discipline” can be talked about from a number of angles, I see it as something people do that they know to be good for them whether they want to or not.  And of course, any number of things might qualify here…  exercise, following a budget, household chores, reading scripture, loving one’s spouse, praying, and yes, writing on a blog.

These are the sorts of things that we force ourselves to do on a consistent basis because we know that if we will stick with it, then something good will eventually result.  None of the things named above come easily all the time.  Sure, sometimes we find it easy to live within our means at times, but there are lots of times when  it is nothing but hard work.  But we  stick with it (regardless of what “it” is) simply because we said we would.  That is what makes is a discipline.

So with regard for the month long blogging, I said I would do it, and I did.  And while the content was suspect at times (or throughout), this exercise accomplished what disciplines are always meant to do.

They free us to do those things that we would really like to do, but for whatever reason we find ourselves unable to.  We see disciplines as forced, artificial, inauthentic, rigid, not-true-to-self, but that’s got it all wrong.  Through disciplines, we are being true to the self that we would like to be.  In this instance, I wanted to write more on this blog not as a duty or out of guilt, but  simply because I want to.  The discipline of doing it daily for a month has helped move me in that direction.

That’s how it always works.  I choose to love God or my wife even when I’m not “feeling it,” not so that I can commend myself for being a great Christian or husband, but with the hope that my affections will catch up with my behavior.  And that eventually it won’t be forced, but rather it will be the natural expression of how I really feel (not that I’m feeling the need to force either right this second).

Alright, this is quickly turning into another series of posts, so I’ll spare us all and wrap it up.

Hopefully, you’ll be hearing more from me.

It has been fun.

the (not so) final word on manhood

While there certainly is much more that could and probably should be said about manhood, I think I’m about done with it.  Other people have had plenty more to say about this topic (as evidenced by the number of “man” books available at your local Christian bookstore).  If you are interested in reading more, here are the three that I have spent some time with in the last year.

Raising a Modern Day KnightRobert Lewis
Wild at HeartJohn Eldredge
To Own a DragonDonald Miller (It has been brought to my attention that this book has been reworked some and re-released as Father Fiction.  Of the three, this one – unsurprisingly – resonated with me most.)

Each one is good in its own way, but they are also very different from one another.

And I think it’s this variety that is in itself a clue about the nature of “man-making.”  The different ways proposed by “expert” men points to that which we already know at a gut level.  Boys become men via numerous well-worn paths.  I know that this eclectic way of looking at this subject isn’t nearly as cut-and-dry as most men (and for that matter, women) would like for it to be.  Most of us tend to prefer things to be a tad bit more concrete, and so I would suspect that my suggesting that there isn’t one definite path to manhood is more frustrating than reassuring for many (myself included at times).  And yet, that seems to be the nature of life.  Life is rarely cut-and-dry.  Rarely simple.

These caveats aside, I offer up a few summary reflections.  I realize that it isn’t much. But in proper man-style, my points are at least numbered.

1) There is no “one” way. I think I just said this, but for the sake of clarity, I’m saying it again.  Going through some six-week (or twenty-six week) program doesn’t insure that a person will become a man.  Not reading books.  Not memorizing definitions.  Not going camping.  Not “I love Jesus” chants.  I realize that it sounds like I’m knocking (or mocking) these things, but I’m not.  They are all fine things to do.  At certain times, they are even necessary.  They just aren’t the end-all-be-all.

The reason I’m not writing this stuff off is that each of these varied experiences does hold out the promise of at least one thing…

an opportunity.

In each retreat, seminar, reading, or _______, there exists the possibility for a man (be he young or old) to more fully grab hold of what it means to a man.  But it is just that, a possibility.  Not more, not less.  Which leads to the next point…

2) There are no guarantees. Just because the opportunity is out there, doesn’t mean that it is going to be taken advantage of.  Simply showing up to something isn’t the “fix” that a man needs to become more a man.  Each man chooses to let an experience be something that will move them deeper and closer to the essence of man-ness…  or not.  And while not everyone will respond to the challenge or experience (regardless of what it is) some will… and some do.

3) It involves a community of men. While I would certainly maintain that fathers bear the primary responsibility of ushering sons into manhood, there are plenty of situations where the father isn’t around or is unwilling to engage a son on that level.  That doesn’t mean that those young men don’t have a chance.  Plenty of other men can and do step into that role.  But…  even if a son has a great father, they (both the father and the son) will need more than one man to be in it with them.  For something as weighty as this, it stands to reason that God wouldn’t have put all his proverbial eggs in one predictably flawed basket.

4) The outdoors play a role. No need to rehash what I touched on yesterday, but I would say that spending time in God’s proving ground is at least as helpful as a book, or class, or definition, or whatever.  Being outside isn’t everything…  but it ain’t nothing.  So the value of it shouldn’t be undersold.

5) It is a process. I’m not sure when a young man is able to say, “That’s it! Today, I became a man.”  Pinpointing the exact moment that this happens is a futile exercise.  Instead of a single place and time, it is more likely the case that there are a series of moments.  Some small and seemingly insignificant.  Others immeasurably freighted with importance.  All of these combining and continuing to exert their influence long after the moments themselves have faded.  In fact, one could say that it is the memory (and the remembering/retelling/re-living) of the moment that determines its significance as a shaping event.

I’m seeing that take place in my thirteen year-old, as he struggles to both leave childhood behind while simultaneously clinging to certain aspects of it.  I see it in the students I work with nearly every day, as their hearts and souls expand to match their frames.  And, of course, as I look back on my own life, I see how the combination of crises, people, and experiences brought me to a time when I was willing to shoulder the mantle of manhood.  Even if it rests uneasily at times.

So much more could be said about his topic…  the role of mentors, living with tension and hardship, taking responsibility for oneself and others, what the Bible has to say, men in the church, etc…  So until the book (and workbook, and dvd series, and retreat) becomes available, this will have to do.

men and the wild

It was bound to come up somewhere in this series of thoughts on manhood, but as I’ve been thinking about the making of a man, I’ve been reflecting on the role that the outdoors has in that process.  It is no secret that I enjoy being “out there.”   And for me, the more remote, more rugged, and wilder it is, the better.

But even if it weren’t something deeply embedded in my DNA, the subject would have still been unavoidable.  Some high school friends and I are reading Wild at Heart, and much of what the author, John Eldredge, writes about are experiences in the outdoors.  In fact, this repeated focus on the wilder places has been something of a sticking point for some of the guys in our group.  I’m not entirely certain that Eldredge is saying that an experience in the backcountry is absolutely necessary for a boy to become a man.  But I’m not sure he isn’t saying that either.

So here’s my take on it.  Simply being in the great outdoors doesn’t a man make.  But, there are certain encounters one has in the wild places that are to be found with much greater frequency than in the the cul-de-sacs of suburbia.  In fact, it is the wild-er-ness of those places that is to be valued.  The inherent likelihood of risk, danger, and unpredictability creates the possibility for a boy aspiring to be a man to have a defining moment.  And, it is these moments that give a person a chance to find out what they are made of.  A chance to dig deep and struggle through obstacles.  A chance to discover that they are capable of far more than they dreamed possible.  And as I mentioned earlier this month, these challenges aren’t all physical.

Perhaps you think I’m making more of all this than is warranted.  And maybe I am.  But one thing is certain, these kind of life changing moments of self-discovery rarely if ever happen in a relaxing, climate-controlled, comfortable, sterile living room.

Again, I’m not saying that a boy becoming a man can’t have some of those same “tests” or rites of passage in less rugged places.  Neither am I suggesting that every adolescent male needs to kill a grizzly bear with his bear hands in order to prove his worth.  But there is something about God’s wild creation that provides the backdrop for many a man’s finest moments.

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”
William Blake

Macho Jesus?

Let’s face it, “Jesus” and “masculine” are probably not words that we would immediately associate with each other.  In fact, we may never really think or say it, but I’m pretty certain that the picture that many of us carry around of Jesus in our heads is one that is fairly effeminate. Nice, soft spoken, sort of delicate are all characteristics we are prone to attach to Jesus.  Brawny, calloused, gritty, tough just aren’t words that quickly come to mind when we think about him.

In attempts to highlight Jesus’ manliness, people typically point to his profession as a carpenter as an indicator that he was probably made of hardier material than we usually assume.  But really, that only underscores our culturally conditioned views on what it means to be manly.  Jesus was a carpenter.  Carpenters are manly men.  Therefore, Jesus was a manly man.

But what if Jesus hadn’t been a carpenter?  What if he had been any number of other professions…  an accountant, computer programmer, teacher, pastor, hair stylist?  You get the idea.  Would he still qualify as a manly man?  Add to that, he didn’t trash talk, guzzle Coronas, shoot animals for sport, play football.  Now, we’ve got a real problem.

And then final straw… he wasn’t married.  Which we take to mean (mistakenly, I think) that he wasn’t attracted to women.  Needless to say, on all the things we are most prone to associate with manliness, Jesus comes up a distinctly lacking.

And yet, I think something in us knows that we should affirm the masculinity of Jesus.  Our problem is that we don’t know how to reconcile the tension.

But…  what if we started with the affirmation that Jesus was the ideal embodiment of a man.  And from there, we began to adjust our understanding of masculinity with Jesus as the starting point, rather than trying to fit Jesus into some superficial (and artificial) mold of manliness.  The beauty of the four-point definition I’ve been working with recently is that seems to attempt to do just that.  Here’s that definition again…

An Authentic Man…

– Rejects passivity
– Accepts responsibility
– Leads courageously
– Expects the greater reward; God’s reward.

Now, I’m not going to take the time to connect all the dots, but meditating a few moments on Jesus’ life should be enough to affirm that he lived a sort of masculinity that is a far cry greater than what the rest of us are doing.  Again, I don’t think that definition is necessarily all that there is to manhood.  But it is certainly a better starting point than what most of us have been handed.

Certainly, there is lots more that could be said about Jesus’ masculinity, but the very idea of starting with Jesus as the ideal man should be enough to keep us thinking a while.

Four for Friday

Here they are…

Wolf Parade – Ghost Pressure

Stereophonics – Innocent

Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling – to darkness (dharohar project)

Good Old War – That’s Some Dream (thanks @rebeccacabrera)

Jeremiah (2)

So we are about all done with Jeremiah.  And not a moment too soon.  I had forgotten how long Jeremiah is.  Isaiah has more chapters, but Jeremiah just seems longer.  Maybe that’s because he had such a difficult message.  Both Isaiah and Jeremiah speak to the impending judgment of Israel, and both have a word of hope for restoration.

The problem with Jeremiah is that even the hopeful stuff sounds pretty discouraging.  The hope for Judah is that they aren’t the only ones who are going to be punished.  All their neighboring nations will be as well.  Of all the verses that get quoted out of Jeremiah, 48:25-26 are a couple that don’t get much press…

“Moab’s horn is cut off,
her arm is broken,” declares the Lord.
“Make her drunk,
for she has defied the Lord.
Let Moab wallow in her vomit;
let her be an object of ridicule.”

That’s nice.

In fact, there are only two or three verses from the latter half of Jeremiah that really ever get mentioned.

Jeremiah 29:11 is one of them, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future.” All well and good, except for a couple problems.  One, it is directed at an entire covenant community, not individuals.  And two, what we understand prosper to mean and what it might have meant for a nation to prosper are two different things entirely.  Any attempts to claim this verse as a promise that we are never going to suffer hardship or trail are problematic to say the least.  This isn’t some magic-verse to guarantee that we will never fail…  even miserably so.  It is simply a promise to his covenant people that they (as a community) will flourish… eventually.

If we spent as much time focusing on the couple verses that follow, then we might even discover the means by which we (as the new covenant community) will “prosper.”

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

Jeremiah 29:12-14a

In fact, one could even say that the “calling and listening” and the “seeking and finding” is the very prospering Jeremiah (and God) has in mind.  Food for thought.

The other verses that get some play are 31:33-34…

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

Again, strong promises for God’s community of faith.  This is one of those verses that I have to believe is being fulfilled progressively.  It may have been intended and received by Jeremiah’s original hearers to a certain degree.  With the coming of the Christ and the Spirit which followed, it was realized to an even greater degree.  And one day, it will be fulfilled completely.  God speed the day.

defining manhood

As I said yesterday, I think it is pretty much unanimous that men don’t just sort of bumble along through life only to wake up one day and have magically been transformed from boy to man.  Physically it may seem so.  I’m watching a boy morph into young man right before my eyes.  And while I know it isn’t over-night, it feels like it.

But the transformation into a man, at least in the ways that really count, doesn’t happen quickly or easily.  One of the studies I’m doing, Raising a Modern Day Knight, has beaten into all our thick skulls through agonizing repetition a definition of what it means to be man.  Again, I’m leery of “defining” manhood, but for the sake of conversation (one-sided though it may be), I’m going to share it.

An Authentic Man…

– Rejects passivity
– Accepts responsibility
– Leads courageously
– Expects the greater reward; God’s reward

Now like I said, I’m somewhat resistant to the idea of trying to define manhood at all.  I’m just not sure being a man can be reduced to four bullet-points.  It seems too easy.  I know that men characteristically like things simple and clear, but come on.

Yet, there is something about it that rings true.  And not just that it lines up with some of my own preconceived notions of what it means to be a man.  But as I think about ideal men, or even the ideal man, those qualities do seem to stand out.  In fact, even as I’m reflecting on all this for a few minutes here, the phrase, “Jesus was the man!” is taking on a new meaning.

More on Jesus the manly-man another day.

making a man

For whatever reason, I’m finding myself in a season of having to take a look at the whole “What makes a man?” question.

Honestly, it isn’t one that I get all the fired up about.  I think Donald Miller in his book, To Own a Dragon, captures my attitude about the entire “making a man” genre of books, conferences, studies, etc.  In summary, he’s pretty skeptical.  All the macho, hunting, muscle car/truck, crude innuendo, and bravado that tend to permeate most “Christian” man-stuff leaves one sort of wanting.  I don’t really enjoy man-chants.  I don’t think a man necessarily figures out how to become a man sitting in a church classroom filling in blanks in a workbook.

And yet, the question is a crucial one.  One could even say that my life is consumed with it.  I have three young Chino boys in my own home that I have a highly vested interest in seeing become not just men, but men of worth.  And that desire is a large part of what I do with students.  At least half of the students in my charge are of the male variety.  Many of them I care about very deeply, and I long to be a part of the process in which they are ushered into manhood.

So the question still hangs out there.  How is it that a boy move from adolescence into manhood?  It is easy to identify the things that don’t factor much into that process.  Being good at sports doesn’t do it.  Being good with girls doesn’t either.  Nor does graduating from high school or college necessarily mean one is a man.  I’m not even sure getting married or having children necessarily makes a man.  We all know “men” who have excelled at or done all those things, and yet for all practical purposes they are boys. Boys that look like men, but boys nonetheless.

Currently, I’m doing two different studies related to manhood (I thought I just said that men aren’t made through reading books about being men!).  One is with with a group of high school students that I meet with on a fairly consistent basis.  By their own suggestion, we are reading and discussing John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. Strangely enough, I’ve never read it.  I realize that every other male in Christendom (and most females) have.  I haven’t.  I haven’t seen Titanic either.  Sometimes, the hype-fest passes me by and I simply miss out.

Anyway, I’m reading it now.  I’m also doing a study with some men at church called Raising a Modern Day Knight.  My involvement in this latter study has largely been driven my already mentioned desire to provide what my sons need to keep moving down the road to manhood.  Between the two studies, lots of ideas on man-ness are floating around out there.

This post is already longer than I hoped it would be, so I’ll adopt the strategy from the wildly popular “gear essentials” series, and stretch this discussion out over a few days.  But I want to end on this last thought.  Regardless of the differences of content and approach that the two studies have, at least a one thing they agree on.

“Manhood” doesn’t just happen.

gearing up #5

This is number five.  Sort of anti-climactic.  I probably should have counted down from #5 to #1.  Lots more suspense that way.  Dang.

Nonetheless, here it is.  The final thing to round out “the essentials.”  Drum roll…

A rain jacket.

This does exactly what you think it might.  Keep you dry in the rain.

Now, knowing what kind of rain jacket to get is – as always – a bit of a guessing game.  If you are going to be out there a lot, meaning weeks every year, then something like what is pictured above is probably the ticket.

For the rest of us, there are lots of sub-$100 options.

And then there is always this.

For real.  If you are just looking to keep the rain off you and don’t care how you look or getting clammy, this will work just fine.

Ok, we’re done here, but one final word.  I hope one isn’t left with the impression that they can’t go play outside unless they have all the right stuff.  If you add up a “middle of the road” collection of gear, you could easily find yourself dropping $500 or more.  Not sounding all that middle of the road.

The best strategy I can recommend for getting the gear you need is borrowing someone else’s stuff.  That way you get to try things out.  Figure out if you are really going to be spending much time outdoors.  What stuff is going to work for you.  And so on.  Who knows, I might even let you borrow some of my stuff…  might.

gearing up #4

After you’ve gotten your super nice and warm sleeping bag, what’s next?  A sleeping pad, of course! It is the thing that goes between your sleeping bag and the ground and selecting the right pad can be the difference between a great night of sleep or a less-than-average night of sleep.

Pictured below is what I would consider to be the current Cadillac of sleeping pads.  It is the perfect combination of everything you want out of a pad… thickness, lightweight, small rolled up size, and insulating power (the ground can get cold).  Of course, the perfect sleeping pad comes with a hefty sticker price…  $15o!

While I don’t think I could bring myself to drop that kind of coin on a pad, I would stay away from what many of us started out on.  Thin strips of foam.  Some people still swear by them.  They are lightweight and don’t get holes poked in them.  But they just can’t deliver when it comes to sleeping comfort.  If I were looking to get one right now, I’d probably pick up something like this…

Therm-a-rest has been making these things for years, and has a reputation for putting out a quality product.  Get one, take care of it and it will take care of you for years to come.

As a bonus…  if you go backpacking at all, then you can get a “chair kit” that converts your sleeping pad into a downright comfy chair.  Not a top-five, but nice little creature comfort for out in the middle of nowhere.