The New York Times thinks contemporary pop culture may be narcissistic.
Now there’s some insight for you. News to pay for.
“I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by the mere facts.” - G. K. Chesterton
The New York Times thinks contemporary pop culture may be narcissistic.
Now there’s some insight for you. News to pay for.
“[The] self-sacrifice of God in His Son is in fact the love of God to us. ‘He gave Him,’ which means that He gave Him into our existence. Having been given into our existence He is present with us. Present with us, He falls heir to the shame and the curse which lie upon us. As the bearer of our shame and curse, He bears them away from us. Taking them away, He presents us as pure and spotless children in the presence of His Father. That is how God reconciles the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). We can, indeed, speak of the love of God to us only by pointing to this fact. It is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit that the fact itself speaks to us, that in the language of this fact God says: ‘I have loved thee . . . fear not, then; for I am with thee’ (Is. 43:4ff). No other saying is needed, for this one says all there is to say.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, p. 2.378)
“Almighty God, which through thy only begotten son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; we humbly beseech thee, that, as by thy special grace, preventing us, thou dost put in our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ our Lord who liveth and reigneth, &c.”
Cranmer has three collects for Good Friday, the first at Matins and the second and third at Communion.
“Almighty God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for the which our lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross: who liveth and reigneth, &c.”
“Almighty and everlasting God, by whose spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified; receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before thee for all estates of men in thy holy congregation, that every member of the same, in his vocation and ministry, may truly and godly serve thee; through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Merciful God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that thou has made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live; have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels and heretics, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word: and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth, &c.”
Here’s the fourth and final installment.
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Closing Reflections on Manly Sainthood
It is also the case that godly men don’t run on tediously, so let me cast about now for a way to close. In his epistle to Titus, Saint Paul tells us that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Note those three words: self-controlled, upright, and godly. These lie at the heart of manly sainthood (they lie at the heart of womanly sainthood, too, but that’s not the topic for this evening). Self-controlled refers to sobriety, sober-mindedness, sanity. As prophets, we live sane lives in the wisdom of our God. Upright refers to righteousness. As kings, we live ethical lives under the law of our God. Godly refers to the orientation of an entire life. As priests, we lead worshipful lives in the grace of, and in willing service to, our Triune God who has bought us with the blood of His Son. This is what discipleship means for each of us tonight as men: living sanely, ethically, and worshipfully in the present age.
But if we are to learn and live this kind of manliness, we must renounce – we must say no to – ungodliness and worldly passions. In your time, this means renouncing the ways of Hymowitz’s “child-man”; it means saying no to the infantile thoughts, words, and deeds of your generation of young males, so that you may cultivate and display the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. You will not have an easy time of it, my brothers, but then, a disciple is not greater than his master or a servant than his lord. Christ gave His life to make us new men; little wonder if there is some cost to us in being such men. But if we embrace this cost, we may yet see the tide turn in our waning civilization. We may live to see a generation rise that scorns the child-men of our age, a generation “like plants full grown” in their youth; and we will know that by grace alone we have reared them to be so. May the Lord our God grant it.
Here’s the third installment. Alert readers will immediately notice my debt to Future Men.
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Let us ask ourselves: what does it mean to be a man? I do not intend what I am about to say facetiously: to be a man is, first of all, not to be a woman. Blindingly obvious as that may sound, we must, in the teeth of much modern thinking, persuade ourselves afresh that we cannot pursue the high calling of manhood in generic company with our fellow humans, the women of the world. Theirs is one calling, ours is another. It is certainly true that there is a general goal, or telos, toward which all human life is to move; it is certainly true that there are essentials of Christian piety in which both we and our sisters participate. But let us not delude ourselves that the scriptural injunction, “Quit ye like men,” is neatly interchangeable with another injunction, “Quit ye like humans.” Something else – something distinctively masculine – is in view.
Perhaps we might look at this another way. The process of growing toward mature humanness is what the Bible calls “discipleship.” Jesus Christ is the Last Adam, and by His grace and Spirit we are formed into a new humanity that, raised from the guilt and shame and lostness of our sin, once again images the glory of God. In this growth-process, in this discipleship, in this movement toward the goal of becoming the kind of people our Master calls us to be, there is, from one perspective, “neither male nor female”: all must take up their cross and follow Jesus. But then there are texts (Titus 2, for one) in which men are addressed as men, women as women, older men and older women as such, younger men and women as such – and this reflects the fact that “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female.”
So what might be some distinctives of manly discipleship? We need to ponder this, for if we don’t know what our Mastor would have us press toward as men, if we don’t know what mature manhood looks like, if we don’t know what we are called to be and do as men, we will be in no position to cultivate the character that befits our calling and enables us to fulfill it. We will, in short, fall short as manly disciples.
What I propose to do in the next very few minutes is to sketch out a portrait of manly sainthood, of mature manhood, using the rubric of prophets, priests, and kings. I will not pause here to defend the notion that God created humans to function in His world in these three offices; I am interested in how men are to take up these offices in a distinctly manly way. We’ll take them in the reverse of the usual order.
First, we are the Lord’s kings, which means we are called as men to be lords and laborers. We are called to stand before others as leaders (this is our lordly function), and we are called to stand over any number of spheres of responsibility – perhaps a home, a piece of real estate, a business, a school project, a bedroom, a car, or a relationship with a pet tarantula (this is our laborer function). We stand before others; we stand over spheres of responsibility.
If that is true, what kind of character befits our calling? What do we need to be cultivating in ourselves as kingly disciples? Well, if we are timid, we need to become adventurous (within sober limits, of course); if we’re short on ideas and imagination, we need to spend time with some visionaries; if we’re restless, we need to slow down and work on patience; if we’re sloppy, we need to become careful (one thinks here of tax records and balanced checkbooks); if we’re lazy, we need a swift kick in the pants. If we’re in a habit of offering excuses for our failings, let us resolve unflinchingly never to offer another as long as we live. You can’t lead or labor well without a very particular kind of character, any more than you can hike the Alps in Birkenstocks. You must outfit yourself to the task – or calling – at hand.
Second, we are the Lord’s priests, which means we are called as men to be saviors and saints. We’re called to stand between others and all manner of evils (this is our savior function), and we’re called to stand in a representative role between others and God (this is our saintly function: we are to be set apart to God, we are to be holy, in a way that enables us to lead others into holy worship of God and service to God).
What kind of character befits this calling? If we are going to be used of God to deliver others from evil, we had better be strong enough to resist evil in our own hearts (never thinking the bad stuff “out there” is any worse than the idols produced in our own hearts), and we had best be ready to take a lot of hard knocks. It may sound glamorous to be a deliverer, but in reality it looks like carrying groceries for a babushka at a crowded intersection; it looks like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and tending the wounded; it looks like burning the pornographic magazine because it exploits women; it looks like befriending the “loser” in class despite what it does to my popularity ratings; it looks like taking a wife and taking care of her till death; it looks like having kids despite the cost and training them in the fear of God rather than paying someone else to parent them. This stuff takes courage; it takes a willingness to sacrifice, to hurt, to lose. And then there’s the character of a saint: being the kind of person who actually wants to pray and can lead others in prayer; who owns a Bible, reads it, and can open it up to others; who shows up for worship every Sunday even when the preaching is mediocre. Priestly work is responsible work, and it’s not for the irresponsible. It’s not for the dude who just wants a good time. It’s not for the fence-sitter who can’t figure out whether he really wants to be God’s friend or to hang out with God’s enemies. Being a saint takes commitment, it takes passion, it takes purity, it takes love. Above all it requires that we understand who Jesus Christ is, what He’s done for His people, and what a grace it is that we’re with Him.
Third, we are the Lord’s prophets, which means we are called as men to be sages. We are called to be wise and of sound mind in every engagement of our lives – and not just after the age of thirty-five. What kind of character befits this calling? Teachability, for one. The understanding (so rare among men our age) that we don’t know everything, that perhaps we don’t even know much, and that we need to walk with wise men and shut up long enough to hear what they say. Also studiousness. Not all great men are bookworms, thank heaven, but all God’s men are to be able to study, eager to study, and thoughtful in the way they engage the world. Sages have critical filters on when they engage the culture outside the church, and the culture inside the church. They don’t embrace something just because it’s cool; in fact, they might reject something precisely because it’s cool. They are readers; they push the boundaries of their thought-world. They are swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to blow gaskets. They are men whose minds rule their passions, and from whom one day there will be a lot to learn, because they are investing in the fatness of their souls.
What am I saying in all this? I’m saying that, while we must not accept unbiblical stereotypes of manhood, we must certainly embrace biblical stereotypes. Godly men aren’t effeminate, mousy, weak, soft; think of David, who could collect a couple hundred foreskins if he had to. Neither are godly men chest-pounding, brash, macho brutes; think of Joseph, Daniel, Jeremiah, the apostle John, or for that matter Jesus. Godly men – manly saints – are humble, kind, gentle, civil, obedient, vigorous, alive, imaginative, constructive, determined, learned, self-controlled, responsible, and ready to serve. They have a vision in their heads of what God has called them to, they know it isn’t womanhood, and they are busy cultivating the character that will enable them to reach the maturity to which their Master calls them.
Here’s the second installment of the essay.
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Let’s begin by considering an aged question: what does it mean to be a human being? In today’s world it is all too easy to want to move immediately to genetic considerations in answering this question, but let us resist such a temptation. Genetics may tell us what we are made of biologically, but it cannot resolve what is surely the more difficult issue: how might we know, individually or collectively, whether we are making real progress in becoming better human beings? Is there any distinctive purpose for human existence, are we for anything; and how might we know if we are progressing toward that purpose or regressing from it?
Christian literary critic Marion Montgomery has offered what is perhaps the finest definition of a human being I’ve ever heard: we are, he says, “created intellectual souls incarnate.” Every word in that definition counts. First, if we are to figure out what it means to be human, and how you and I may become what we are meant to be as humans, we must understand that we are created. Your humanity is not simply a blank slate on which you may scribble anything you please (that is actually an allurement, I believe, of the video game: one determines one’s own reality, in some cases even one’s own identity). You are created, which means you’ve got a Creator, which means there is an inescapable “givenness” to your life, and you need to learn what has been gifted to you, and with you, as a human being so you can steward it responsibly.
Second, we are intellectual souls. Man is homo sapiens, he is a knower and a thinker, a reasoner who isn’t left to the tyranny of brute appetite or to mere instinct. To say that this is largely lost on the modern single young male is putting it mildly: your peers today don’t read, by and large, and the discipline of reflection is simply beyond them. Their heads have been turned to hash by amusement – the absence of musement. Which is, incidentally, a huge part of the reason why most of them are unmarriageable (it takes a certain level of brain activity to be a husband and father) and why it’s a matter of bizarre solace that they refuse to commit to marriage – would you really want to see a woman you care about stuck for life with Jack Black?
Third, we are incarnate souls. We are not imprisoned in our bodies, much as they may sometimes drive us to new depths of humility. Our bodies and everything we enjoy with our bodies are a gift of God. There is everything to be celebrated by God’s people in manual labor, athletics, the visual arts, godly lovemaking, stout ales, fish-and-chips, prime rib, and sushi-with-sake. I am no philosopher, but I wonder if, while our Christian tradition has been quick to plunder the gold of Parmenides and Plato, rightly emphasizing the intellectual dimension of humanness, it has not at times rather slighted the gleanings of Heraclitus and of Aristotle, failing to delight as it should in the sheer flux and particularity of our incarnate createdness.
But now from these rather heady ponderings, let us proceed to a more pointed question, one that will help us distance ourselves more concretely from the infantile world of Hymowitz’s child-man.
Last evening I was privileged to give a talk on manhood at The King’s College in the city; it was a delightful time of fellowship with the men of the House of Churchill. My topic was “Manly Saints in an Infantile World”; I’ll be putting up the essay in installments.
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The Challenge of an Infantile World
I wish to begin this evening with the absurdly understated observation that the average young male in 21st century North America is not a promising specimen, intellectually, morally, culturally, or spiritually. Your kind, gentle listeners, has become the subject of an expanding body of research that tries by turns to figure out what on earth is up with you and how to exploit what’s up with you for commercial profit. To cite but a single example, consider Kay Hymowitz’s article in the City Journal in the winter of 2008, provocatively titled, “Child-Man in the Promised Land.” She begins thus:
It’s 1965 and you’re a 26-year-old white guy. You have a factory job, or maybe you work for an insurance broker. Either way, you’re married, probably have been for a few years now; you met your wife in high school, where she was in your sister’s class. You’ve already got one kid, with another on the way. For now, you’re renting an apartment in your parents’ two-family house, but you’re saving up for a three-bedroom ranch house in the next town. Yup, you’re an adult!
Now meet the twenty-first-century you, also 26. You’ve finished college and work in a cubicle in a large Chicago financial-services firm. You live in an apartment with a few single guy friends. In your spare time, you play basketball with your buddies, download the latest indie songs from iTunes, have some fun with the Xbox 360, take a leisurely shower, massage some product into your hair and face – and then it’s off to bars and parties, where you meet, and often bed, girls of widely varied hues and sizes. They come from everywhere: California, Tokyo, Alaska, Australia. Wife? Kids? House? Are you kidding?
Not so long ago, the average mid-twentysomething had achieved most of adulthood’s milestones – high school degree, financial independence, marriage, and children. These days, he lingers – happily – in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. Decades in unfolding, this limbo may not seem like news to many, but in fact it is to the early twenty-first century what adolescence was to the early twentieth: a momentous sociological development of profound economic and cultural import. Some call this new period “emerging adulthood,” others “extended adolescence”; David Brooks recently took a stab with the “Odyssey Years,” a “decade of wandering.”
These are not the most depressing paragraphs in Hymowitz’s article, but they suffice to illustrate that you are now living somewhere in the midstream of a cultural transmogrification of young males from rising future leaders to “child-men” of the South Park variety whose chief end – à la Peter Pan – is never, ever, ever to grow up. Your peers prefer a life of video games: “Men between the ages of 18 and 34 are now the biggest gamers,” Hymowitz reports, and in 2006 nearly 50% of American males in that age bracket used a console for approximately three hours day – more than the average 12- to 17-year old!
Of course, beyond the call of mindless entertainment lie the other two preoccupations of the contemporary youthful male: copious beer and cheap sex, or preferably some ample combination of the two. One thinks here of the exploits of Tucker Max, and more need not be said.
It is my assumption this evening that you are gathered here because you aspire to be something more than what Hymowitz and others have described; that your chief aim in life is not to be superficial, indolent, and passionless – her words, trying to capture the image of today’s single young male. But to know what we do not wish to be is not yet, of course, to know exactly what we ought to be, what we ought to strive toward; nor does it clearly identify for us the path that will lead through the surrounding inanity to something better, richer, and nobler. It is to these more positive, constructive questions that I would like to devote our few minutes together this evening, and may the Lord our God give us light.
It’s no secret that men often find it hard to “connect” to church life. Part of the reason for this, I suspect, is that men are not as naturally excited as women tend to be about sitting around and talking (sharing their hearts, that sort of thing). The female communal instinct will gravitate to a Bible study; it’s less certain that this sort of thing will draw men, who would rather be hunting elk together, framing out a kitchen together, scaling a climbing wall together, or playing a round of horseshoes. I’m not saying any of this is universally the case (yes, I’m stereotyping), nor am I saying it deserves unqualified acceptance (real men can talk theology), but I am suggesting that Christian “life together” often lacks an outlet for manly interests and energies.
It need not be this way. There are actually lots of things men might do together to the glory of God in a serious Christian community. But this leads us to a particular problem of our time. It was not so long ago when men needed each other for a variety of everyday tasks: barn raising, garden planting, crop harvesting, wood cutting, cattle branding, fishing, hunting, auto repair, or what have you. A significant change introduced by industrialization (handing over our work to machines), urbanization (availability of professional services for every conceivable need), and “virtualization” (increasing localization of all work on the personal computer) is we don’t need other men for very many projects anymore. I don’t need other men to help me run my laptop, and so while it’s perhaps still easy enough to play with other men, it’s tough to find meaningful work for us to do together. To that extent, it’s hard to meaningfully share life together.
Lots of loose ends here. Just something I’m thinking about.
“Almighty and everlasting God, which of thy tender love toward man, hast sent our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility; mercifully grant that we both follow the example of his patience, and be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our lord.”