Wednesday, May 17, 2006

An Invitation to Manhood

It seems as though I keep running across blogs/podcasts/sites with a recurring theme.

This afternoon, I'm beginning to take one of our interns through Wild At Heart for the summer. Great book. Last night, I ran across a ministry/blog entitled Outfitting Your Faith which focuses on reaching men, either uninvolved or marginally involved in the church, and creating relevant, authentic, godly friendships among the testosterone camp. And, this morning, I find this on Joe Thorn's blog. How cool would that be for us guys?

So, I'm (still) churning around the question in my mind: What makes a godly man? How do we define Biblical manhood? Look at Jesus' relationship with the disciples. Look at the early church fathers. Even the earlier fathers of our faith such as Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David, Solomon, etc.

In a world where boys who grow up fatherless (the father essentially betrays his son into life as a half-man), where do they look for manhood?


At 12:19 PM, Blogger scott m said...

I read through the various links you offered in the post. I do recognize that the human culture described is the culture/personality of many American men. Probably not a majority, but certainly many. I have absolutely no objection to speaking/living the gospel for people using their own cultural language. There's little other way anyone can hear it. However, when someone confuses a specific culture and particular personality types with God's design for all men, the way we are "made", they err deeply.

God didn't make men to be "dangerous", at least not any more than he made women that way. (Personally I consider imbuing a creation with the image of the creator pretty dangerous, but that's a different discussion.) Nor are the "three deepest needs" cited the three deepest needs of all men or even the majority. Are we different than women? Sure. Virtually everyone knows and recognizes that reality, but the differences cannot be distilled that simply.

If we're going to look at patriarchs, for every Abraham there's an Isaac. Read their stories and reflect on their personalities. They are as different as night and day. Lord knows Dad tried to share his love of fishing with me. And I always went, just as I've always taken my kids (both genders) when they wanted to try it. But in both cases, it's purely from love for and desire to be with the other rather than any interest I've ever had in fishing. Similarly, I've done hunting, but find little pleasure in it. Cars don't rev my engine. They are just a means to get from point A to point B. Guns don't excite me, though perhaps I got that out of my system in the Army.

People are complicated. Anything that tries to reduce "deepest needs" or anything like that to three bullet points does not respect the immense variation and deep complexity of people.

Becoming a "godly man" does not strike me as complicated at all, though there is nothing easy about. Practice disciplines that help us better love God and love others. They will not be identical for every person, though many will find similar ones helpful and foundational. That's spiritual formation and becoming "godly". Everything else strikes me as window dressing.

I'm sorry, but I categorically refuse to step into the testosterone saturated, stereotypical "man" box.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger tom cottar said...

Scott, thanks for your response. It's pretty much...ok...exactly...what I'm talking about.

My thought is that, yes, for every Abraham, there is an Issac. For every godly mechanic/deer hunter, there is a godly painter/songwriter.

But somewhere, there must be definitive characteristics of 'godly manhood'...testosterone aside. Not about fishing. Not about power tools. Not about the cultural beer chugging, womanizing stereotypes. God created us male and female, with obvious and complementary differences. As Eikons, I think as men, we may carry different characteristics (or at least different nuances)of our Creator than those emobodied in the feminine aspect of creation/The Creator.

The complexity of people doesn't deny their common denominators.

I'm not interested in convincing everyone they should take up fishing or hunting or dance around campfires chanting like cavemen. But I am interested in discovering the uniqueness of 'godly manhood'. I have the distinct impression that it is different from 'godly womanhood'...however nuanced.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger scott m said...

But somewhere, there must be definitive characteristics of 'godly manhood'

Why? Or more specifically, why is it important for us to isolate and identify those traits?

Now I do find gender distinctives a fascinating topic for reflection, exploration, and understanding. I've yet to find any distinctive (beyond the obvious physical, hormonal, and neurological differences) that can't be found, however rarely, in individuals of the other gender. Nor have I found any distinctives that are universal to either gender.

However, as long as that reality is kept in mind, a better understanding of common differences between the genders can greatly improve our ability to understand, relate, communicate, and appropriately love each other. It's a worthy exploration. And it's a fun one. Or can be.

But when I hear 'godly man' (or 'godly woman' for that matter) it often sounds to me like people are asking what the godly gender distinctives for either sex are. And that simply strikes me as the wrong question to ask. Or at least the wrong focus. Or a question that is not, in and of itself, very important.

Rather, we need to focus our attention and energy on what it means to be 'godly'. That strikes me as the core and truly important question. What is spiritual formation? What does it mean for us to be conformed to the image of Christ?

It seems to me that there is no way you can truly pursue genuine Christian spiritual formation, which Jesus pretty clearly defines as loving God and loving others, without having your particular gender distinctives, traits, and personality molded and shaped toward godliness.

So I'm unconvinced there are universal traits that can be captured under the umbrella of 'godly manhood'. If any exist I'm certainly not convinced we are able to discern them from the culturally influenced traits. But whether or not there are, or if we could somehow separate them from the rest, that simply does not strike me as the best place to focus attention.

Drop a word and let's pursue instead what it means for any of us, male and female, to be 'godly'.

At 9:16 PM, Blogger tom cottar said...

I'd have to pause and consider some of your comments...

1. God didn't make men to be "dangerous", at least not any more than he made women that way.

Then where do the stereotypes come from? The *do* exist, don't they...? Am I misinformed that far more men seek an adrenaline rush (from whatever source) than do men? Or is it just that my circles include 'dangerous' men and 'less-than-dangerous' women?

I'm sorry, but I categorically refuse to step into the testosterone saturated, stereotypical "man" box.

I wouldn't ask you to. I know you well and love you. :p

3. Or more specifically, why is it important for us to isolate and identify those traits?

Beacause, I propose, that if in fact they *do* exist, that it would serve me well to recognize men in society who fit the bill...for my own sake. We(I)are a generation of men raised largely by women. I can definitely benefit from the wisdom/experience of older men of the faith: how they have trusted God in crisis, how they have learned to be a good, even GREAT, Father and Husband. (For the record, I don't know of any older *women* in the faith whom I'd like to hear how they learned to become better *husbands*... that's a different conversation.)

And, I'm fairly certain God has endowed would-be-fathers with different innate desires than would-be-mothers. Why? Because in God's perfect will, we have different roles to play. In marriage we are one (like the Trinity exists separately but in unity), and we have different, complementary parts to play in bringing about the Kingdom (again, just as the Trinity...)

Has every single man in recorded and unrecorded history been given the same measure of 'X' characteristic? No way. Just as no women have been given the same measure of 'Y'...

Are there common denominators? Absolutely. That or we've pulled the stereotypes ouf of thin air, ...and they've translated beautifully for generations by coincidence.

Can they be distilled to 'three deepest desires'? The jury is still out.

4. Drop a word and let's pursue instead what it means for any of us, male and female, to be 'godly'. Which word would I drop? 'Godly'? No way. 'Manhood'? No way. This post, however one-sided it may end up being, is focused on the question, 'What makes a godly man?' which I think will look different, if even slightly, than 'What makes a godly woman?' The reason is I'm pursuing specifics, not generalities.

Will a godly woman be loving? Yes. Will a godly man be loving? Yes.
Will those manifest themselves differently? I suspect so.

In scripture, we have at least 2 different images to consider, which I'd be happy to pursue tomorrow (it's late and I have a 6:30am appt): the gardener (NT)and the warrior (OT). In the fullness of the Father, we find Him expressed as both. My proposal is two-fold. First, that *culturally* we understand The Gardener as feminine: watering, planting, caring, nurturing. We conversely (again, culturally) see the Warrior as masculine...pretty self-explanatory I'd think. Given: many of us exude both qualities in varying degrees at various times.

Second, perhaps from creation ('created them male and female'), we were endowed as Eikons with certain 'bents' toward either image. (Think of how Esau's bent was different from birth...). Again, I don't have any definitive answers, but am asking questions...which won't be answered with a single book or quote of a bumper sticker to be sure.


At 9:18 PM, Blogger Jimmie W. Kersh said...

I really want to throw a kink into this discussion for the purpose of “FUN.” Forget the testosterone concepts and estrogen concepts and focus back on the spiritual question of “What makes a Godly man?”

The question is not a Godly man, because whether male or female, none of us are. The question is spiritual. Anytime you look at the spiritual, some people are going to rebel, so sometimes the conversation is useless and sometimes it is beneficial. Spiritually speaking, Adam is our example. He cursed us and is our ultimate example. Notice that Eve did not curse us, Adam did. We are held accountable to sin because of Adam’s sin. Adam as the head of the “first” family is spiritually responsible for her as well as himself. That is what is forgotten in most discussions of a “Godly man.”

We are responsible for our self, the sins of generations before us and the sin that we impute to the generations which follow. Tough thing for us to handle, but Biblical we have no choice but to accept our responsibilities. Apparently our actions are not what determines our standing before God. David is a prime example of that statement. He was a man after God’s own heart, but his actions showed otherwise.

Now if actions are not determinative, then it must be measured on salvation. Since salvation is not brought about by man, but by God, then we are made Godly by God alone. We must then consider the answer to the spiritual question to be a spiritual answer. Spiritually, the answer must be the fruit of the spirit being lived out in the life of a believer. Without the fruit, there is no evidence of spiritual birth and therefore it is impossible to be a “Godly man.”

Sorry for going spiritual on the question, but it is a bigger answer than we can actually come up with without using multiple pages of text to answer this seemingly short question.

At 10:21 PM, Blogger scott m said...

Well, I should certainly be in bed considering how early I get up. But I was captivated by the SA/Dallas game. (Go Spurs!) :-) I'll take a quick stab at a few thoughts.

1. Dangerous? I don't know. Maybe it is a matter of circles. I've certainly known plenty of women who loved a good adrenaline rush. And plenty of men who didn't. Heck, by and large my daughters have been more naturally inclined toward the adrenaline type experiences than my sons. I know that's a common stereotype, but I've seen nothing to support it.

2. Love ya too, man! And thanks. [g]

3. None of my direct experience or historical exploration has illuminated any gender distinctives that do not appear culturally influenced and for which cultural (not just individual) exceptions can be found. It's a fascinating exploration to pursue and I have nothing at all against it. I'm not 'egalitarian' in the sense that I believe men and women are identical. They obviously aren't.

Stereotypes are just that. Stereotypes. I can think of no instance when they are not dangerous. Further, the western, American gender stereotypes are hardly universal. You have read about matriarchal cultures, right? The gender stereotypes in those tend to be radically different. So I find a path marked by the prevalence or persistence of stereotypes not just unconvincing but dangerous. There are a lot of stereotypes of other sorts out there that *still* persist, in some places quite overtly. Stereotypes are *not* a good thing and do not point to good things.

4. More than I can unpack at the moment. But I would generally maintain that the individual expression of love will tend to look different based on culture and personality more than gender. If the latter is a consistent factor, it will express it self on its own. It still strikes me as the wrong focus. Maybe if I could look at myself and those around me and see more that looks like real spiritual formation, the nuance of gender distinctives might have more weight. But I ain't seeing it.

As far as the cultural inclinations. Amazons (and many others) break the "warrior" mold. I certainly wouldn't want to threaten a woman defending children in any culture. And gardener? The activities you list have been central to farming for as long as farming has been a part of our cultures. And that has typically been a task most associated with men. I'm not sure I get why it would culturally be considered 'feminine'. Not sure what your point was intended to be, but I don't share the cultural touchstones.

And in your last paragraph, I've never denied that we are all individual different with differing 'bents'. Individual being the key word. It strikes me as a step toward 'othering' to focus on distinctives.

At 7:34 AM, Blogger scott m said...

I'm going to step back a little in my processing of the question. Let's say that there is some list of specific traits of the male gender that are not the result of hormones (or other physical factors) or culture, that are not generally shared by the female gender, AND that can specifically be identified as "godly." I can't think of any, but let's say they do exist and the failing is mine. And let's say we're able to discern those traits and thus have a list of the traits that make a "godly man" or which define "godly manhood." (I think it's a symptom of American culture that we're obsessed by "lists" of all sorts, but that's a different discussion). That leads to the key question.

What are you going to do with that list? If it's a list of characteristics which you happen to have in abundance, how will that make you feel? Careful how you answer. If it's a list that seems impossible for you, how will it not condemn? As humans we've been building these "lists" from all sorts of sources to describe all sorts of people throughout history. Our track record in the manner they've been used is very poor.

I get the sense that this question is pushing directly against some of my own cultural distinctives, which probably explains my reaction to it.

In another direction, the belief that we are all somehow "partial" images of God is a very, very risky one to toy with. That idea is very, very close to some of the distinctly pagan beliefs I had once extracted. In my case, I had melded the 'christian' creation account (more or less) with my beliefs specifically to arrive at this point. In other words, whether 'god' was one, plural, or a less directly personal entity, women (mostly) embodied the feminine aspect of 'god', while men (mostly) embodied the masculine aspect of 'god.' There are many paths you can travel from that juncture.

No, I tend to now fully embrace the orthodox Christian belief that, whatever else may be true, men and women all carry the full Imago Dei. I don't know exactly what that means but, though cracked, we are all full Eikons of God. And as such we all have at least some access to all the traits of God. The nurturer can be the warrior if needed. The warrior can (and I would say should) nurture as well.

There are lots of gender distinctives out there. Some seem pretty good. Some less so. (It's a pain in the neck as a Christian that lots of testosterone also leaves us with much easier access to anger. That makes it harder for us to practice appropriate restraint. Anger can energize tremendously, but out of control, it's highly destructive.) Others fairly neutral. But traits that are specifically and identifiably 'godly manhood', that is aspects of 'manhood' that are distinctly 'godly' traits and are also exclusively male? I'm skeptical.

Further, I'm unconvinced it's an appropriate focus. We are men. If we seek to become spiritually formed in the manner we are instructed, is not the result that we become more godly men? But I do see that as the end result and not the goal or the pursuit. Pursue Jesus deliberately and with intent and discipline, and it strikes me that lots of good things happen. Pursue anything else, however good it may appear, and I'm less convinced.

Jimmie, I don't want to give the impression that I'm ignoring your thoughts. My lack of comment stems from the fact that I'm unable to come up with any. The way it reads to me seems to imply a number of specific theological doctrines with which I don't connect at all. So I can think of nothing to say that wouldn't be completely tangential.

At 8:20 AM, Blogger Jimmie W. Kersh said...

I just went back and re-read my post. have you ever noticed that late at night some things seem to make since and then when you wake up and are refreshed you wonder "what the heck was that all about?" I just had one of those moments.

I think it would have been easier to say in one sentence.

A "Godly man" is one whose life is producing the fruits of the Spirit.

Sorry for late night incoherence. I must remember to think in the mornings and vegitate at night, it makes the world a better place.

At 12:28 PM, Blogger scott m said...

OK. That statement is much clearer and I got your thought just fine this time. It feels somewhat similar to part of what I'm saying and I certainly have no disagreement with it. It's another way to described the spiritually formed person.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger tom cottar said...

A "Godly man" is one whose life is producing the fruits of the Spirit.

I can buy that as a starting point. Good summary.

Now, first of all, how does that translate into your maturation from a boy to a man? Does it express itself differently in your life as you relate to Anita and/or Josh than it does as she relates to you and Josh?

Yes, there are some basic traits that translate across gender....but how does that manifest itself in MY LIFE? How does that make me a better husband? Father?

And secondly, is that ALL there is to defining a 'godly man'?

just questions....

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Jimmie W. Kersh said...

I am not sure (Biblically Speaking) that there is anything past the Fruit of the Spirit concerning Godliness. I know from my own life that there are things I associate with Godly men, but it does not come from the Biblical text.

Personally, I would be careful not to deviate from the Biblical text concerning this one. It does become cultural I am afraid once the Biblical text is bypassed.

There is only one Biblical man I would consider as a Godly man and they killed Him for it. The flaws of the other guys are too numerous to make them examples. I know people love David or Abraham, but they were not what I would consider Godly men. They may have been me of faith, but not Godly.

Maybe we need to make the Son the Godly man to follow as our example. I hate being a sour grape on the issue, but I do not know any man that I would like my boys to grow up immulating other than the Son.

Just the Fruit and the Son.

At 6:59 PM, Blogger scott m said...

OK. I thought of a zillion one-liners off that last sentence, but I'll restrain myself. :-P

I generally agree with Jimmie. I don't think there are any examples of 'godly' manhood outside Jesus. And Jesus' instructions are clear. Love God (by following him) and love others. None of that is easy and it certainly requires significant spiritual formation. But the others? Abraham pimping out his wife. Twice! Isaac trying to weasel around God's plans for his sons. And he had apparently learned the wife-pimping thing from his father. Jacob ... well there's certainly a lot there. Noah. Sure, he listened to God when apparently nobody else would, but that's damning him with faint praise. He was also the drunkard who was willing to actually curse his son. (Chris Seay has a great two-parter on the flood and Noah.)

None of my comments should be taken as lessening the importance of good role models or mentors for the sort of parent or husband you would like to be. That's important. It's associating the appellation 'godly' with it that bugs me.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger tom cottar said...

At the risk of sounding like a doctoral thesis (which I'm trying to avoid like typhoid), I'm going to continue this thread as a new post next week:

An Invitation to Manhood: An Exploration of Godliness and Masculinity in the Life of Tom Cottar within the context of inhabiting the Biblical narrative in an evangelical, conservative subculture in central Texas.

At 3:35 PM, Blogger Jimmie W. Kersh said...

I want to contribute to that one. I would say a gotee is required.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger scott m said...

A goatee?!?! Hogwash!

If the emphasis is on masculinity, it's got to be a full beard. Be a manly man. (I can feel a chorus of "I'm a lumberjack" building)

If it's on godliness, then only a soul patch will do!

Sheesh. Everyone knows that. :-P

At 7:58 PM, Blogger tom cottar said...

So that settles it.

Godliness = soul patch, black t-shirt and strong coffee.

Manlines = hiking boots, red plaid flannel, and a hearty chorus.

If you can't sing good, sing loud..."I'm a lumberjack and I'm o.k., ..."


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