masculinity matters.

a few weeks ago, on Father’s Day of all days, a man came up on stage to do the announcements for church and in the process of talking about Father’s Day, he mentioned that his wife had been gone all week and he had been alone with his kids all week and how all three of them (he and his two kids) were so relieved to have his wife back because she was the better parent of the two and everyone’s lives were made easier by having her around.

now, i get appreciating your wife. i like to think that one day when i’m married, i’ll give a lot of credit and praise to my wife and that we’ll be partners in taking care of the kids, but for now there’s something cringe-worthy of hearing a man, on father’s day, make cliche quips about how women are better parents than men, and not a single mention for the praise-worthy characteristics of men. on Father’s Day.

it comes as a surprise to people (sometimes, anyway) when they find out i’m a little right-leaning in my political/sociocultural views. (i guess it’s because i’m nice, because i’m not rich, because i’m respectful, because i make efforts to learn Spanish and have been to a couple of countries outside the US to do missions and i don’t hate non-white people, which i guess is un-conservative.) i listen to a lot of the Ben Shapiro show, which is helpful in shaping my opinions on what’s happening in the world. one of the reasons i love (and hate) his show is that he will bring up articles written by major ‘news’ publications and rip them a new one, and while i am a little tribal in rooting for him while he dismantles their arguments, i also find myself incredibly sad at the things that go through people’s minds.

recently there was an article published in the Washington Post called why can’t we hate men?  (yes, that’s a real title) and its conclusion basically suggests that if you’re actually a good man, you’re only going to vote for feminist political candidates, you’re going to step away from positions of power and influence, you’re going to sit down, shut up, and play for Team Feminist. i guess that men are supposed to be some sort of Brian Scalabrine, keeping the bench warm and being on the team but literally having no influence whatsoever. and it’s not just the one article. theres this one, about how women have the right to hate men; or this one, about how she used to not hate men, but now she decided it’s what “intelligent women” do and how she will patronizingly tolerate some individual men, but hates the class of men altogether.

first of all, i’m a little bit sorry for delving into this on my blog, since i try to stay largely introspective and not do a whole lot of political or social or cultural commentary. but this one’s been burning in my bones for a while, so i’m not actually that sorry.

i just have to say that this is how you get more sexism. sexism breeds sexism which breeds sexism. so if there’s a system which oppresses women (which i’m willing to believe is true, despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary) then i agree that we need to figure a way to disarm that system. but we have to recognize that disarming that system is a lot like disarming a bomb – cut the right wires in the right sequence and you’ll successfully disarm it without incident, but if you cut the wrong one, you blow the whole thing up – including yourself.

i think that my greatest pet peeve about the cultural conversation around gender at the moment (amidst a flurry of peeves) is how we talk about men, but we don’t talk about manhood. we really need to define manhood, because it’s my belief that we have a totally misguided idea of what manhood is, and therefore we talk about men in the wrong light.

i think the greatest perpetuator of incorrect ideas of manhood is a lack of male role models and male figures to look up to. i think that fatherlessness is a social epidemic, and you can explore some statistics on the phenomenon here, but just to throw out a few: children raised in a single-mother home are more likely to display aggressive behavior than in a two-parent home; individuals from a fatherless home are 279% more likely to carry weapons and deal drugs than a two-parent home; poverty rates are four times higher in single-mother homes than a two-parent homes…

i have more to say but let me start with this:

men, you matter.

seriously. you matter so much. you matter.

i wish someone else were out there saying this more, because i am convinced that the first thing the world is going to try to take away is that you matter at all, that you have an influence at all. i know that i’ve entertained the line of thinking that a woman just needs a man to inseminate her so she can get pregnant, and she can take it from there. you know what? that’s kind of true – women are strong and incredible and it’s amazing the fact that a woman’s body is capable of growing and feeding and sustaining a human life. but i’m here to tell you that the child’s life will be better and the mother’s life will be better if you – a good man – are around to be helpful and supportive and constructive.

but let me say this: you just being around isn’t enough. that is – you cannot be passive. you don’t just exist to pay the bills, to be a warm body at night, to be someone to play catch with. men and women should be helping each other – it’s not a one-way street of women being supportive and doting and being at home for their man to get off of work; nor is it a one-way street of the woman doing all of the parenting because it “comes more naturally” or because she’s “better at it.”

nope.

men, you matter.

women, you matter too.

equally.

let me guard against something really quick – i’ve heard it said that if equality feels like oppression, it means you’re accustomed to privilege, so let me do my best at being open-handed and saying that i’m not trying to push back against women or feminists, i’m not trying to claim any sort of male victimhood. if anything, i feel (in my own spirit) more like i’m bracing for a wave, and i’m willing to crash into it, but not willing to be swept away by it. i’m not willing to sit around and listen to men get trashed and thrown away as unnecessary. that’s a load of crap.

now, that said, i think there is something to properly channeling masculinity. i think masculinity is a good thing when it’s used and held properly, and i think it’s an awful thing when it’s not. (again, i would submit that male role models in life are incredibly important in understanding how to properly channel masculinity.)

i think there are some basic traits to masculinity: pride, strength, passion, ambition, desire. there’s a lot more, but i’ll go with those for now. i think there’s a roaring in the spirit of every man. i think when you don’t channel those traits, you wind up with some ugly stuff. i think rape – to use one gross example – is misguided pride (pride of what you can “conquer,”) misguided strength (strength used for gain instead of strength used to help,) misguided passion (instead of loving a woman, you love her body only,) misguided ambition (same idea – you have the ambition for sex but not the ambition for love) and misguided desire (same idea as passion, you have the desire for a body, but not for a soul.)

i think that war is – or can be – misguided pride.

i think bullying is misguided “strength” and “pride.”

i think that careerism – the dog-eat-dog of the working world – is misguided pride and ambition and strength.

but good God, i think there’s a whole hell of a lot of good that masculinity can do and does regularly.

i think masculinity writes some astounding works of literature (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a wonderful piece on the dynamism of the human man, i think that’s well-guided passion and strength to explore the topic.)

i think masculinity creates some astounding pieces of architecture (desire and ambition channeled properly.)

masculinity creates some great businesses.

teaches the next generation of scholars.

raises some amazing children.

loves some amazing wives.

contributes to amazing mission and relief work across the world.

leaves legacies that can’t be unwritten.

(before you say that women can do all of those things too, let me get ahead of you – i agree with you! women can and do do all of those things. that’s exactly my point…that men and women both accomplish great things.)

masculinity matters. it’s important. it’s deeply, deeply important. as much as the world wants you to think it’s not, wants you to think that a man’s only value is to provide sperm for a baby (except our culture loves abortion, too – so even that isn’t valuable to them) i want to swing the ideological pendulum back to the other side and say – shout, even – that being a man is deeply important, deeply valuable, and deeply good. i want to say that as men in the world we should aspire to raise good sons who will be good fathers to good sons, who will be good, ethical, fair businessmen, who will be good husbands to wives, who will not sleep around in college and demean women’s bodies, who will channel all of their creative energies to write, to create, to build, and to dream, and who (perhaps most importantly) will not apologize for being a man. manhood is not superior to femininity, but it sure as hell isn’t inferior either.

so men, go be a man. go be passionate. be ambitious. desire things. dream big. don’t step on anyone while you do it – but don’t let yourself be stepped on, either.

go.

be.

a.

man.

the world needs you.

thoughtlife.

what’s the busiest place you’ve ever been? have you ever been in a place so crowded or so loud that you can’t think, can’t focus, can’t get everything out of that place that you had planned to or wanted to?

this is the part of the blog where i make a quip about how you’re about to enter the busiest place on earth: MY BRAIN.

i am indeed joking, but let me say this: i am learning that it is our job to keep our thoughtlives managed and under control. because sometimes i feel like my brain is the busiest place that i’ve ever been to. i have one busy, busy brain. perhaps you can relate to this, reader.

let me begin by saying that over the course of the last twelve to sixteen months, i have begun to take things on – in my life as well as in my ministry – and not all of them have been the most wise. where i have let myself down the most is in knowing the danger/potential i have for burnout and exhaustion and choosing to take things on anyway. or, sometimes, it has just been luck-of-the-draw. for example of the former, i decided to try and organize a bible study around the turn of the year. we began it knowing we’d only meet once a month at best, and we met exactly one time. but what’s ironic (and feeding into my larger point, which i will get to) is that although we only met once, that is, it only took up one calendar night, it occupied considerable thoughtspace. i spent time trying to think of how i could alter my schedule to make it work, of everything i could work around, of how many people would feel let down if i just admitted, “hey, sorry guys – i overestimated how much time i’d have for this as well as everything else i have going on right now. would someone else be interested in leading?” (fun fact: this group is still in limbo, and i am still trying to figure out how to make it meet, although it seems that everyone has taken on a lot in their lives.) for an example of the latter, i’d send you to an old post i wrote back in October, when – commitments being made at differing times – it turned out that i had to drive to Columbus, OH for training and arrive the night before heading down to Harlan, KY for a retreat i was leading worship at. i’d committed to retreat first, and then it just so happened that i had to travel for work that same week. not ideal, not for me, but i learned from it.

if you’ve read my blogs lately, it will not come as a surprise to you if i tell you that i have felt tired lately. i say this less as complaint and more as objective fact: my life seems to be – at times – a series of things to react to. (or, you could say, a series of choices to make…since our reactions are a choice.) and/or, a series of things to keep track of. depending on how far back you want to go…i began three new jobs around August/September (with trainings, weekly commitments, and three schedules to keep track of,) moved into a new house in August, began a relationship in October (the decisions made in that would take up their own blog,) took on a new ministry opportunity in January, quit one of those jobs in January, went almost-full-time at one job starting in February, got knocked back down to part time two weeks ago, have had a car with various issues and have been a few hours away from taking out a loan to get a new one (there’s a choice i’m glad i didn’t make,) and am considering the implications of the impending end of the lease i’m currently in.

i left a lot out. but i’m really not writing for sympathy – i promise you. after a lot of prayer and consideration, i’ve contented myself with the idea that this is just a season, and it’s a season i’m learning from. a season of absolute madness which i wouldn’t recommend to anyone, even my worst enemy.

a season which has rendered each and every decision tedious, laborious, and heart-wrenching. forgive my melodramatics – but i’m actually kind of serious. i’ve long joked/lamented how having a day off is such a blessing but also brings a difficult set of choices to make. do you use that day off to catch up on your life? laundry, groceries, cooking, cleaning, etc? pay your bills and run your errands? use it to catch up with a friend? get out of town and do something for yourself? spend time with your significant other? sleep in? get up early and redeem the morning? read a book? watch a film? go for a run? a bike ride? rest your weary body? listen to podcasts? think as little as possible? be with people? be by yourself?

in some ways, i hope you can relate to this, reader – in others, i hope you never have to. (if i’m honest, i’m flattering myself to assume i’m alone – i know others go through this, too.) either way, unlike in my posts from the last year or so, i’m not here to write for spiritual consolation or venting or release or anything like that – actually, i’m kind of coming at it from a standpoint of spiritual tactical analysis.

a while ago – and i can’t recall if this is something i’ve covered in my blog or not – i was thinking about being sick and why the heck it would be that Jesus is so concerned with healing our bodies. among other reasons, it occurred to make that when you’re sick, the only thing that’s easy to think about is how sick you are. right? you think about your pain, what you need to do to get better, how long it’ll be until you get better, etc – it just takes up so much of your thoughtspace. that’s part of why i think Jesus likes us to be well – again, among many other reasons – so that our thoughts can be more easily fixated on Him, and on others. i think i’m finding this to be true about our thought life, too.

burnout is a real problem. there are countless books about it, i’m sure there are blogs about it (i don’t usually do a lot of research for my posts, lest i would give them to you) but it is very, very real. and i think burnout is an end-goal of the enemy of our soul, and it’s for a specific purpose: to take our minds away from God.

Think about it: all affection must begin in the brain before it can go to the heart. think about a flower – you don’t see a flower with your heart. you don’t smell a flower with your heart. you don’t make the “mmmmmm” sound after smelling said flower with your heart. no – we actually process all of our emotional experiences first through our heads. your brain processes the visual stimulus and categorizes it as “beautiful.” your brain processes the olfactory information and categorizes it as “pleasant.” your brain then responds to that olfactory information by sending it to your speech center, which asks for a response: “mmmm, what a beautiful looking and smelling rose.”

So the brain takes the first step of affection. and it aids along the way in the process of affection. i’m not necessarily going to get into all of that here and now, except to say that when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind(Matthew 22:37)

Let me say this: God is not (or, is not meant to be) peripheral. i’ll tell you how i got there – if you’re anything like me (and i – with deep regret and no self-flattery whatsoever – consider myself above-average in my thought activity) you think a lot. the sheer number of thoughts going through your head is astonishing. you think about a lot of things, and then you think about what you’re thinking about. no thought is an island – there always seems to be a connecting thought. no issue is stand-alone. right? thinking about summer vacation is also thinking about how much money you have saved up, it’s thinking about how much time you have, it’s thinking about when you need to plan on getting back, it’s tons of planning what to do while you’re there, it’s thinking of who you should invite, thinking of whether you should drive or fly, when you’re going to look at airfare, when you should take the car in for the oil change, calculating prices and costs, etc. it’s a lot of thinking. we put in a lot of work thinking to do a lot of not-thinking (which is ironic in and of itself.)

so, you think a lot. i think a lot. i think of this issue of God’s non-periphery like trying to capture a photograph. your thoughts are like that – a picture. and there’s a lot you want to get into that picture – maybe it’s relationships or ministry or trips or books or your hobbies or movies or food or vacation or responsibilities or what have you. and God is there in the middle. what we tend to try to do is take a bunch of little snapshots – we categorize our lives (i do it too) and each shot we take has a little bit of God in it but you never quite see Him fully. and each shot is disappointing and not quite what we thought it was going to be. still a nice shot, but not quite what it ought to be.

let me suggest that in the picture that is our lives, God provides the perfect subject: the perfect central object that brings everything else into perfect balance – all the colors and contrasting things seem to work together somehow, everything is the size it’s supposed to be, everything is in proportion as it’s supposed to be. i wonder if that’s the suggestion of the very first of the ten commandments – because after all, God wrote them for the good of His people – that your life and your plans just won’t work right without God in the center. it’s actually for you that God wants to be in the center.

i’ll give you some anecdotal evidence of this. at present, among my biggest desires is to be full-time at one job, and be able to quit the other part-time job. i have a clear, obvious, logical leaning as to which one i’d prefer. i have a lot of thoughts on why it’d be great to be full-time: better pay, more vacation time, less competition in my schedule, i’ve practically already worked full-time at it, it looks great on a resume, a chance to network, etc. if i were currently full-time at this job, it would save me some stress in my relationship, as it would empower me to be more financially prepared for a trip, which is something near and dear to my girlfriend, who is near and dear to me. (it would also give me a more preferable answer to her family when they’ve asked me what i do for a living, but that’s beside the point.) so, the process of becoming full-time is something i want, and i think about a lot. the one small problem with this is that it’s not something i can do until i’ve hit a year, and that year comes in mid-September.

NEWS FLASH: thinking harder doesn’t speed up time.

this hit me the other day in my prayer time, when i realized how much stress i give to this thing i can’t control yet. i realize how much energy is taken up by me worrying about whether or not September will get here next week. there’s literally nothing i can do about it.

and this, i believe, is where the battle lies and everything connects: if our affection for God begins in the mind, then the enemy’s tactic is to cut off our supply lines. in other words, the enemy gets us thinking about everything else so we have no room to think about God. the enemy wants me wasting time thinking September closer, instead of putting my mind on the God who invented and lives outside of time. to return to the analogy of the photograph, i have snapped this from every single angle up close and haven’t gotten any of it right. it’s not in focus, the colors don’t look right, the subject is bad.

worship begins in the mind. it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our thoughts are proportionately set. that is, the things we can’t control should (and i say should knowing how easy it is for them to not be) be a small percentage of what we think about. the things we have a choice in should be a little bigger. and ultimately, God should be in the center of what we think about. remember what Jesus said: seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (provisions) will be added to you.

additionally, Paul talks about the mind multiple times throughout his epistles. two specific instances come to mind: Paul tells the Colossian church to set their minds on things above, where Christ is; and Paul tells the Philippian church that whatever is pure, noble, and lovely, we should think on those things.

i’m just going to wrap up by saying that there is a mental, thinking element to worship. and i’ve experienced first-hand the number of thoughts that can run through one’s brain. thoughts of the future, of the past, of planning for something, of responding to something, anticipating something, wanting something – all of that goes through our mind. do not be surprised when your mind is ambushed and flooded, but i would encourage you to seek God in how best to manage those thoughts. all of those thoughts are important, but they have a time and a place, and “right now and everywhere” is not the answer – i can tell you that much. take care of your brain. God loves it and you need it to love God.

gazing.

as a writer – or, perhaps more accurately, as a human – i find myself to be very self-critical. actually, yeah – it’s just a human thing. anyway, my writing in the last year or so seems to be about one thing consistently – it seems to be about progress, about satisfaction, about comparison. (i know what you’re thinking – ‘jeff, you just listed three things!’) i see them all as being rather intertwined…because we tend to compare our progress or otherwise our station or position in life to other people, and we base our satisfaction on how we’re doing compared to the curve. we always want to be in the 90th percentile of success, and it seems to me that the key issue is that we redefine success.

in a world with money and things and experiences and stuff, there are always going to be winners and losers. there is going to be a bell curve of “success,” if that’s how you want to define it. not everyone can be rich, not everyone is going to be poor, not everyone is going to get everything they want. not everyone gets their dream job that lines up with their major and their interests and skill set. not everyone gets the dream car with the right financing (or no financing at all.) it just doesn’t seem to work like that. and as communal creatures, it can be intensely frustrating to live with people for whom things do go right – or so it ostensibly appears. there people i know for whom “success” comes naturally, easily, and without any effort. the deck just seems stacked in their favor at every turn, and if it’s not, then they won’t let on that it’s not (and a part of me, at this juncture, wonders if it’s not that their life is perfect, but that they refuse to let the imperfections bog them down, a convicting thought for me.)

friends, i will be honest with you – and with myself – i feel that in my life lately, i have been all-too-focused on getting what i want. it’s something that my gracious girlfriend has hashed out with me, and within our own relationships we’ve had hard conversations about what it looks like to make each other happy as a couple but also to make sure that we’re getting the things we want/need as individuals.

and i keep coming back to this same roadblock in every juncture of my life —

 

there’s never enough.

 

seriously. there’s never enough of something. there’s never enough time, there’s never enough money, people’s schedules don’t line up with mine, there’s not enough freedom or flexibility, there’s not enough interest, or the weather doesn’t cooperate with plans i make. i’ve become really cynical about the idea of a perfect day anymore.

it’s at this point that i find myself convicted and re-convicted that there is true, deep, abiding joy to be found nevertheless, and that it all comes down to where our focus lies. but don’t worry, i’ve found ways to screw that line of thinking up, too. check this out.

so, there’s a verse i really like in 1 Corinthians 2 (i’m currently hammocking and i’m on a roll with writing so i’m not going to look it up) where Paul says that he claimed to know nothing among the Corinthians but Christ and Him crucified. There’s a verse in Philippians where Paul talks about knowing how to be abased and how to abound. there’s a verse in 1 Timothy (6:8 if i recall) that says that if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. i’ve found that in my quest for justice and vindication – because i have not yet been bestowed with one consistent, stable, well-paying full-time job – i use these verses as a club to try and beat other people down to my level. i martyr myself by wailing about how little i live with (or try to) and then shame – either out loud or in my head – the people who have better-paying jobs than i do about their lifestyles. i remember hearing a sermon once that mentioned that people who look at money as a god or as a devil (in relative terms) are equally idolatrous to their approach to money. color me guilty.

let’s revisit the earlier thought about the bell curve. the bell curve exists – at least off the top of my head – because of a capitalist society/economy we live in. there are high-paying jobs, and there are low-paying jobs, and not all jobs can be high-paying, nor can they all be low-paying. economics 101 can tell you that. so this is an instance in which God’s people are in the world but not of the world. and/but we are even distributed, as God’s people, among that bell curve. some of God’s people – Christians – are poor and don’t make much money. they’re still God’s people. some of God’s people are rich and make a lot. they’re still God’s people, too.

the impasse (well, it’s not really an impasse, which is what i’m about to say) that we have to navigate (maybe a road-block is a better term?) is how we operate in a Kingdom that says that we aren’t our socioeconomic status when the world says we are. Paul writes in Galatians that there isn’t Jew or Greek, slave or free, or male or female in the Kingdom. that is, you don’t identify in your sub-culture in the Kingdom of God – you’re a citizen of that Kingdom and the labels that the world puts on you/encourages you to put on yourself don’t matter.

so how do we do that? let me start by saying that i began this blog violating that idea. heck, i’ve lived in violation of that idea for a while. the idea of treating myself and everyone else as simply Kingdom people instead of rich people or poor people or republican people or democrat people or men or women doesn’t come naturally to me. i’m pretty bad at it. i’ve been worst at it in the area of money, which you gracious readers have heard me plop through for the last six months or so. it’s like when i was a kid and i had brussels sprouts – i don’t want them to be on my plate anymore but i also don’t really want to eat them – so it is with me and socioeconomics in the Kingdom of God. i’m trying to finish it up, and each bite is nasty but brings me a step closer to being done with it, and it’s been a slow, slow process which has taken up a lot of my thoughtlife.

that said, my big question for God lately has been, how can we push that out of my thoughtlife? as i ponder (and ponder, and ponder, and ponder) i’m reminded that Jesus is a great leveler. For the Christian, Christ stands ready to be the anthesis of whatever we think we are. Jesus is the riches of the poor man, and the poverty of the rich man; He is the consolation for the weary and the anxious, and the stirrer/challenger of the complacent or lazy; He is the freedom for the enslaved, and the taming Master of the untamable; He is confidence for the insecure, and He is humility for the proud; and perhaps most importantly, He is the leveler who will always prove us wrong if we ever claim, “i could never be/will never be that.”

i believe that pride is at the root of every comparative thought. i think pride is the real issue i deal with, and i think Jesus finds it repulsing. i think pride is so anti-Jesus, and that seems to be the one thing that every human being has in common. we tend to be proud about something, unless we make an active effort to bring pride to the altar every day and crucify it before God. (if you have any tips on how to do that, let me know.) we like to glory, we like to boast. if not in what we have, then in what we don’t have. if not in what we are, then in what we aren’t. if not in what we’ve experienced, then in what we haven’t experienced. pride is self-defense. and i don’t see self-defense in Jesus, who was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

i have no solution here, other than to gaze. i believe that for the things i deal with the most, the only solution is to intensify the light that is Jesus Christ – to have Him take up more of my thoughtlife and my attention, to have Him invade my lines of thinking, to have Him be my line of thinking. because, to follow up on an earlier thought – while there isn’t enough of what i want – whether it’s time or money or freedom or what have you – but there is always enough of Jesus. the blood of Jesus testifies even now, the Spirit of God fills even now, the love of God the Father keeps extending itself even now, even after 27 years of just my own mistakes (and God knows how many millions of years of the sins of others) and it goes on and on and on and on and it never runs out, it never runs dry (to quote a modern tune.) and there’s an old song prays, “be Thou my vision, o Lord of my heart, naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou, my best thought by day or by night, waking or sleeping – Thy presence my light.”

 

so let it be in me.