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 Knight – Robert Lewis
Wild at Heart – John Eldredge
To Own a Dragon – Donald 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…
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.