Tag Archives: manhood

Be Strong and Courageous (and Not a Boy-Man)

I recently had the opportunity to see The Bourne Legacy, which is way better than the critics had made it sound and totally worth seeing for adults.  The critics, by the way, often don’t like a movie that skews traditional, as Legacy does.  It was a fantastic action film filled with the intelligent intensity you expect from the Bourne series.

No, Jeremy Renner is not Matt Damon, but he’s quite convincing in his portrait of a Bourne-like character.  Go see the film.  It’s a blast.

Anyway, it struck me afresh how impressive the lead character of the Bourne movie is as a man.  He’s in control, assertive, aware of others, physically fine-tuned, and one who meets any challenge in front of him.  This kind of man is strikingly different than another avatar of modern cinema, the boy-man, who pops up repeatedly in the films made or led by Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, and many others.

The boy-man is selfish, young, immature, addicted to games, immune to responsibility, foul-mouthed, and weak.  He’s overwhelmed by adulthood, so he chooses to stay in some sort of boyish fantasy.  He doesn’t want to build big things, meaningful things, like a family, a six-decade marriage, a socially and personally profitable career, or a gospel-driven church or missions effort.  He wants to make music, play games, follow sports, flirt with girls, loaf through life, bend the rules so he’s not accountable or inconvenienced in his selfishness, and ignore the need to help others.

I want to suggest that wherever you can as a young man or one involved in any way in training young men, you point them toward manhood, maturity, adulthood, responsibility, ambition, strategy, vision, focus.  Yes, it can be fun to be boyish.  But you know what’s far more satisfying?  Becoming something.  Becoming something greater than you are.  Becoming a man.  Building stuff.

What else is cool?  Winning a woman’s heart and keeping it for years, decades, a lifetime.  Raising children to know the Lord.  Giving tons of energy to a church plant or a church undergoing revitalization.  Leaving everything to go to the mission field as a single young man.  Mentoring at-risk youth.  Creating a company that employs others and advances the common good.  Pushing past laziness and whining and getting yourself in shape, fine-tuning your body so that you’re no longer a boy in the way you eat and take care of yourself.

The Bourne series is of course fictional.  But if you read the stories of real-life elite soldiers, you see that they become something greater than they naturally are.  See the gripping American Sniper, for example.  The stuff that a Navy SEAL must do to enter the program is stunning, frightening.  It’s also awesome.  Emulate that as a Christian.  Become a SEAL follower of Christ.  Become something greater than you are and that this culture trains you to be.

You’re not an idiot by nature as a guy.  You’re not a goofball.  You’re not addicted to silly things.  If you are a boy-man right now, there is tremendous hope for you, and there is forgiveness for your sins.  If you haven’t been trained well, if you haven’t had a father at all, there are gospel-preaching churches led by godly men who will train and help you.  Seek them out.  In the power of the Spirit, leave your boyish ways.

Hear Moses’ words to Joshua as he passed on the mantle of leadership in Joshua 1:9.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

And, we might say by way of contextualization today, do not be a boy-man.  Be a man, period.

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Every Man Needs a Man Cave

Okay, so that’s not really true.  Let’s amend it, then.  Lots of men “want” a man cave.

The Art of Manliness has featured two posts (here and here) on the unique structures and rooms created by men for their work.  Some of them are opulent; many are not.  Most of them have allowed men a place to think deep thoughts, read great books, and perhaps pen timeless words.

Many of us may not have a “man cave.”  The future may allow us such a privilege.  We don’t need much, though.  Take Thoreau’s cabin to the left.  Nothing fancy, but there’s something which calls to a man’s soul in a room like that.  $28.12 was all it took, and he got a fireplace in the bargain.  Not bad.

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Should You Pay Your Kids to Tweet? On Social Media Addiction

A couple of days back, Jon Acuff–laugh-out-loud writer and author of Stuff Christians Likewrote a post on how to manage social media use as a father.  Acuff wrote the post in a whimsical style but ended up recommending that dads “pay for Tweets” in an effort to curb their phone use while at home.

Here’s what he said on this point:

The time doesn’t belong to me when we’re all hanging out. It’s family time. So if I want to use some of that valuable family time to write a tweet, it only makes sense that I would buy that time back from my kids. So every time I tweet on the weekends or on weeknights, I have to give each kid a quarter.

Let’s not treat this as some super-serious matter.  Reformed types can sometimes end up treating every little cultural ripple as a major wave.  We can bring a Thousand Mega-tons of Doctrinal Force to bear on the ministrations of a molehill.  That’s not good.  I should also say up front that I’m glad, genuinely glad, that Acuff is taking some kind of action to engage with his family and curb his social media addiction.

But I would say that I think Acuff may be barking up the wrong tree here.  Whatever happened to good old-fashioned self-control?  Are we really so addicted to social media that we literally can’t put the iPhone down?

I understand this temptation, by the way.  I have an iPhone.  Sometimes, you come home from work and you’re tired and you don’t want to engage.  Or you get an idea and you really want to share it with the world (or at least several hundred/thousand of your closest friends).  I get that.  I’ve had to focus on this matter and essentially retrain myself out of bad habits.  I’m like Acuff, after all–I like ideas, my brain is usually going, and most significantly I’m a sinner, so I can take immense blessings like my sweet kids and my great wife and ignore or disdain them.

It may not be the worst thing in the world, then, to “pay for Tweets.”  Like I said, at least Acuff is fighting his addiction, unlike many parents I see.  Let’s just be honest–the smartphone has become an escape tool.  When you’re with your kids but your heart’s not in it, you jump on Twitter and scroll through comments.  Meanwhile, your kids get annoyed, they act up, and no one ends up happy.

So some action is better than no action.  But doesn’t “paying for Tweets” put your kids in the awkward position of adjudicating your fatherly behavior?  That’s a silly idea, and a bad one.  Your kids shouldn’t be your authority (even in a whimsical sense), you should be theirs.  It may be fun for a bit to have them “police” you, but that’s ultimately an irresponsible position to put them in.

How about this for a proposal?  Buckle your seatbelt, because this one’s really going to take your breath away; it’s likely that a whole new way to be a dad may open up for you in this very paragraph.  How about fathers be fathers?  How about they exercise major amounts of self-control, praying to God for the strength given them in the power of the Holy Spirit through union with the world-conquering Christ?  How about they discipline themselves, and own their fatherliness, and take on responsibility, and live and think and act as a God-commissioned authority?

How about they cease to spend their time like a little kid with a new video game and instead leave their phone alone for, I don’t know, hours, and plug in with their tired wives and help their children who are filled with pent-up excitement and want nothing more than to play with them uninterruptedly?

How about about as fathers we cease to image a distracted, selfish, boyish father (a pale reflection of the father of lies, don’t you think?) and instead image a loving, strong, others-centered father (something akin to, say, the heavenly father)?

I’m guessing Jon Acuff wants to be a good dad and may well be.  And I did break my promise and go a bit thermonuclear in my cultural analysis.  But I do think that our culture of weak manhood has lowered our expectations of ourselves to a new low.  We’re all grading on a curve nowadays, and we can trick ourselves into thinking that a “C” effort really deserves an “A.”

So how about this: we break our social media addictions (which really are sinful, by the way) and reassume the role of Christ-shaped champion of our home?  We will surely bless our sweet wives and kids, and we’ll end up with a good deal more quarters in our pockets besides.

 

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What a Young Husband Ought to Know

Interesting post from First Things on an old book about what young husbands should know (What a Young Husband Ought to Know (1897, link has free ebook thanks to Scott Lamb) by Lutheran pastor Sylvanus Stall).  Here’s a bit of nineteenth-century wisdom for young men, filtered through Russell Saltzman’s commentary:

This is where I start to like the guy. A young husband, Stall admonishes, should continue to court his wife. He should, in dress and attire around the home, remember he has but one woman to captivate by his “manly charms” (I think he uses that in an ironic sense), and, being a man, it will likely require continuous effort. A father should be prepared and able to care for the children while his wife is out, and a proper one will find time to play with his kids. A real husband should be home after work, avoiding bars and clubs, and he should quiet the house when he gets there so the wife can get an hour’s rest. He should keep the house trim and the yard clean; even a modest house will benefit from male attention.

Read the whole thing.

This is simple stuff, but good stuff.  It can be hard to push away from big projects at work and to reenter home life, but it is necessary that young husbands learn to do this and sublimate their work to the life of the family.  It’s important to get down on the floor with your kids when you get home, hug them, play with them, laugh with them, and generally show them a picture of a father who is kind, strong, attentive, and loving.

Broadly speaking, it is the duty of a young Christian husband and father to image the character of a greater father.  Central to this, I think, is being sacrificial, not selfish, even as our heavenly father gave up his son for our salvation.  Theology informs practice.

Young husband: what patterns are you setting for your future?  Do you willingly push away from work to go home a bit early in order to help your wife?  Do you play with your kids?  Do you give generously of yourself to your wife?  Or do you save the best part of yourself for work?

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The “Dad Mom” and the “Man Fail”

The cultural decline of men continues apace.  Tide detergent, of all cultural voices, is leading the charge today.  Watch “Dad Mom” here (I can’t tell if Tide changed the title due to backlash–it used to be “Dad Mom”).

These are actual quotations from this chirpy, tongue-in-cheek video:

“Hi.  I’m a Dad Mom.  While my wife works, I’m at home being awesome.”

“I can take even the frilliest girl dress and fold it with complete accuracy.”

I will not respond at length to these statements; by clicking on the “manhood” and “masculinity” tags on this blog, you could get more of a sense for my sensibilities toward things like this.  I will say, though, that the “Dad Mom” concept is a “man fail” in my view.  Men are not called by God to be “working at home” as women are in Titus 2:5.  The ground is not cursed for women in Genesis 3:17, but for men, whose responsibility it was to work outside of the home–and to protect women, which was the first “man fail” of all time.

The curse bore down upon Eve’s primary activity, childbearing, showing that her intended sphere of labor and dominion-taking was the home (Genesis 3:16).  This is true of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 as well, who though something of a whirling dervish of godly femininity was not, like her husband, by the city gates with the elders (Proverbs 31:23), but working tirelessly to bless her family and manage her home for God’s glory.

All this suggests that the “Dad Mom” is a bad idea.  The commercial offers its perspective lightheartedly, but frilly folding aside, men abdicating their creational responsibilities is no laughing matter.  God created the plans for the family, not man.  We may want to be “awesome” as the culture defines it, but such awesomeness leads us away from the wisdom of our Lord.

This is not to say that men do not help out around the house in some ways.  I sometimes help with the dishes, and I certainly do not read the paper for several hours with my feet up while my wife wears herself out.  Compared to many generations, I’m much more plugged in with my kids, and I do help out around the house in certain ways.  My wife, however, is the homemaker, not me (and a fantastic one at that).  She does the vast majority of the cooking, cleaning, and managing of the house; she spends the day with the kids while I provide for my family.

In that sense, I guess I am a “Dad dad” and she is a “Mom mom.”  The culture presses in, but in submission to God’s will and in awareness of his good and gracious design for his blood-bought children, we stay the course.

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Men, Temptation, and the Gospel

Harvey Mansfield, Harvard professor of politics and 2011 Bradley Prize winner, just wrote a provocative piece on the distinctive characteristics and faults of men for The Weekly Standard.  It’s entitled “Manliness and Morality” and I commend it to you.

Several years ago, Mansfield penned the highly controversial book Manliness (Yale, 2006), also worth reading, though the professor operates from a non-evangelical framework and sometimes writes in a swashbuckling style.  Enjoying the freedom only tenure can bring, Mansfield has questioned gender absolutes in the academy and suggested that men and women are different.  These are fighting words in many circles today.  I have benefited from his insights and applaud his courage, even if I have some essential disagreements with him.

In “Manliness and Morality,” Mansfield notes that “Men are more adventurous and aggressive than women. This is true for good as well as ill.”  He goes on to say that “Many think that admitting such differences will hurt the chances of women to gain for themselves formerly male occupations that require initiative and drive. It certainly seems strange that being capable of rape can make a person better qualified for greatness, but it’s probably true. Yet it’s not surely true; some women do have these manly qualities and do succeed.”

He also calls attention to the potential vulnerability of women, suggesting that “Being mothers, they are closer to their children, and usually suffer more from divorce.”  He goes on to say that “The enforcement of law and morality is done mainly by men or by women with the strength of men. Martial arts! But it’s better usually to call the police. Women need men to save them from men.”

Read the whole piece.  You could also read the book, noting as you do that Mansfield presents his argument in a style that is sometimes bombastic.  His points at times require more fleshing out, more substantiation, than he grants them.  Mansfield’s insights are based in his observations, not in Scripture.  They resonate, however, with certain tenets of the Christian worldview.  From start to finish in the Bible, men are appointed as leaders of God’s church and their homes (with 1 and 2 Timothy providing the essential New Testament data on the matter).  As they go, so go their families, churches and societies.  When men excel in righteousness, others flourish (see, in a general sense, Israel under David’s reign–1 and 2 Samuel).  When men fall into gross sin, others suffer (see the book of Judges).  The sins and strengths of men have an outsize impact on others.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, father of a “love child,” and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, long-time seducer and brutalizer of a hotel maid, join a long list of prominent modern men who have failed terribly as family men and leaders.  If we started a list of such men, we would have a hard time stopping.  Mansfield is right.  Men are aggressive.  Men are adventurous.  Men find monogamy more challenging than women.  When men act on their base instincts, channeling their aggression into fornication and marital affairs, they set women up for heartbreak and pain.  As Kay Hymowitz has shown in her recent Manning Up (Basic, 2011), in the new sexual economy, men are loosed from traditional cultural bonds, which only increases the risks for women, children, and society.

All of which leads Christian men, men captured by the gospel of Jesus Christ, to realize that this is an age of tremendous opportunity.  Godly men have a remarkable chance in this day to show how the Holy Spirit transforms a man.  When God gets a hold of a man, he doesn’t merely tinker with him, making him cuss less and smile more.  When God saves a man, he looses him to destroy sin and bless his family, church, and society.  Christian men are not normal men who sleep less on Sunday and wear Dockers with no creases.  Christian men are transformed men, other-worldly men, residents of a new kingdom, servants of a great king, as Randy Stinson and Dan Dumas make clear in their insightful and challenging A Guide to Biblical Manhood (Southern Seminary, 2011).

Not every unsaved man will stray, and indeed, the media can make it seem as if every man is out to destroy the traditional family.  These ideas are plainly not true.  Many men, Christian or not, will not ruin their families.  The point stands nonetheless.  Godly men have a fantastic opportunity in a society rightly jaded by the failures of so-called “great men”–actors, athletes, politicians, celebrities–to demonstrate the transformative power of the gospel in a man’s life.

We face all the same temptations as lost men.  Our flesh pulls at us to compromise our marriages, to take our sacrificial wives lightly, to ignore our children in order to play golf or get more successful or have more fun, to flirt with the cute girl when traveling, to speak ill of marriage, to generally not live sacrificially in the image of Jesus Christ and spend ourselves for the betterment of those God has entrusted us (Ephesians 5).  Our flesh encourages us to allow small temptations to grow into strong desires, then to usher those desires into daring actions, then to allow those actions to blossom into patterns of sin that will, when discovered, blow our families and churches apart.

But the gospel, praise God, is stronger.  The power of God is inside us, enabling men to exchange the role of pleasure-driven narcissist for that of self-sacrificing pillar of strength.  The power of God is at work in his local church, where sinful men find fellowship in the company of brothers who bear the same weaknesses but through the power of the Spirit stand as oaks of righteousness.  Instead of comparing black book conquests and planning the next hedonistic plunge, these men link arms to kill sin, love their families, and propel the church’s witness.  Whether in a massive church or a tiny one, this band of brothers provides an awesome witness to a fallen world of the mysterious power of the gospel.  Men who genuinely find pleasure in their families, in service of the church, and in their vocations show the world that it is not a secular lifestyle for which we were made, but the far more pleasurable way of life sketched out for us in Scripture.

This very day, every man–whether a global leader or an unknown tradesman–has an opportunity to show the world that the gospel does not kill pleasure or aggressiveness.  Rather, as Edwards has shown, it frees Christians to experience true pleasure and to act in manly for a far greater cause than ourselves.  We grieve the trajectory of modern men, and we feel special pain for the wives and children who are, through no fault of their own, deeply damaged by the sins of men.  In a broken world, we pray to God to show the world a better way, a greater joy, and a magnificent Savior, who delights in taking sinful men and turning them into agents of his glory.

This is cross-posted from The Gospel Coalition.

(Image: Boston Globe/Pat Greenhouse)

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An Essential Talk by Bruce Ware on Manhood

The following was just posted at the blog of The Gospel Coalition:

Theologian Bruce Ware just gave a noteworthy talk on godly manhood at his church, Clifton Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky.  The talk was entitled “Select Principles on Being a Biblically Faithful Man and Husband”.  I heard the talk and commend the audio to you.  The following is the handout given out at the talk.  The handout alone is one of the most helpful documents I’ve seen on what godly manhood looks like.

1. Love.   1) Loving God increasingly w/ all my heart, soul, mind and strength; loving Christ and the cross; loving the gospel — these are the foundation for all else.  Drawing from God all I need to be the man and husband God has called me to be is my strength and hope.  2) Loving my wife as Christ loves the Church — this is the umbrella principle for marriage; everything else flows from this responsibility and privilege (Eph 5:25ff).

2. Leadership.   Biblical manhood involves cultivating, embracing, and exercising leadership initiative, especially spiritual leadership initiative.  This is a principle that applies to young men and adult single men just as well as to married men.  Cultivate, embrace, and exercise spiritual leadership initiative.   In marriage, my love for my wife involves and requires that I exert leadership in our relationship.  My headship of my wife means I’m responsible for her spiritual growth and well-being.  And as a father, I’m responsible in ways that my wife is not for the spiritual development of our children (Eph 6:1-4).  And again, to do this, I must be seeking God and growing personally.  Only out of the storehouse of my own soul’s growth in God can I assist my wife to grow spiritually.

3. Example.  Lead by example as much as by admonition and instruction.  Set the example in:  consistent times in the Word and prayer;  in sacrificial service for your wife, children, church family members, and community needs;  in giving faithfully, generously, and regularly of your finances;  in humble admission of wrong-doing along with confession, asking forgiveness, and repentance.  Fight pride, fight defensiveness, fight carnality before others.

4. Authority.  All three points above imply and invoke the concept of male-headship.  Yes, God has given special authority to husbands and fathers.  Learn, though, the correct expression of healthy, constructive, upbuilding, God-honoring, Christ-following authority.  Resist and reject the sinful extremes of 1) harshness, bossiness, mean-spirited authoritarianism, and of 2) laziness, apathy, lethargy, negligence, and abdication of authority to the women in our lives.  Learn to blend firmness with gentleness, truth with grace, a firm hand with a warm smile.

5. Acceptance.   Each of us is unique as God has made us.  We should accept others’ differences w/o thinking ourselves to be either superior or inferior to others.  In marriage, my wife is unique, and so in many ways, she is not like me.  I need to accept who she is, prayerfully and sensitively seeking to assist her in changing what is sinful and needs to be changed, and accepting what is “just different.”

6. Listening.   One of my wife’s biggest and most real needs is my attentive and respectful listening ear.  She loves to share her experiences, thoughts, ideas, feelings, concerns, hurts, joys, etc.   I can minister to my wife more than one might think by offering her caring, responsive, and respectful listening and interaction.  Learn to listen sympathetically w/o rushing to “fix it” solutions.  Connect first heart to heart, then later heart to head.  Establish regular times of mutual sharing (yes, mutual), keep short accounts, and act on what you hear and learn.

7. Understanding.   I need to live with my wife in an understanding way (1 Pet 3:7), to learn her needs, her sensitivities.  I should seek to know the desires and felt needs of my wife and, when appropriate and possible, fulfill these.  I need to discover her “language of love” and make every effort to love her in ways she feels loved.

8. Work.   A man’s main sense of identity, responsibility, and purpose is found in his work.  Wives want to take pride in their husbands, and taking pride in their work is an important part of this.  Women are not meant to bear the financial weight of a marriage or family, so husbands must work hard and responsibly.  As important as work is to a man’s identity and fulfillment, we must not allow work to overshadow our commitment to and time with our wives first, and also to our children.  Work hard, work well, work to the honor of Christ, and then put work to rest.

9. Sexuality.   My wife is my only legitimate sexual experience, and I am hers.  So, learning to love sexually with increasing skill and pleasure is vitally important to the satisfaction and intimacy of our marriage.  See human sexuality for what it is — the good gift of God to be experienced in marriage, as God has designed.

10. Home.   She cares much about our home.   The “honey-do” list is far more important to her than she is likely to let on.  In love for her, I must pay attention to her requests and treat them as important.  But more important even than this is cultivating the “culture” and “ethos” of our home.  Develop an atmosphere of appreciation, respect, kindness, service, holiness, happiness, gratefulness, contentment, forgiveness — all as expressions of our love for God and one another.

Listen to the talk here.

My only other word on the talk would be that in the case of Dr. Ware, these words are backed up by a faithful life.  It’s one thing to hear people talk about manhood directed to the glory of God; it’s another to live it.  Dr. Ware excels at husbanding, fathering, leading, and teaching.  He has much to teach you and me, and I hope that these resources bless you and contribute to the revival of robust biblical manhood in our day.

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Book Reviews: Chabon on Men, Crawford on Work

Time for one of my favorite things to do: briefly review books.  It’s tough to do this in the midst of the academic semester.  I’ve got two critically acclaimed bestsellers for you today, each of which I review in summary fashion.

First up is Michael Chabon’s very recent Manhood for Amateurs (HarperCollins, 2009).  Chabon is a Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist, an essayist, husband to author Ayelet Waldman, and father of four.  He makes his home in Berkeley, California.

The text is a collection of Chabon’s essays on aspects of manhood culled from publications like GQ, the New York Times, and Details.  Essentially, Chabon traverses the confusing landscape of modern manhood.  He writes from a postmodern perspective, seeking to find the irony, beauty, and hypocrisy of men.  He is a spiritual person; he attends a Jewish synagogue, and this works its way through his essays.

Like other bestselling contemporary male authors (Bill Simmons, for example), Chabon grounds his exploration of his subject in popular culture.  His childhood included much engagement with comics, fantasy tv shows, and the like, and so these things pop up repeatedly in Manhood for Amateurs (currently around #400 on Amazon).  I do not have as much affection for this sort of culture and so did not connect with these stories as others might.

Chabon is an excellent prose stylist.  He occasionally pushes his language just a word or phrase too far, but in general, his writing is inventive and alive.  In terms of his views on manhood, they are, unsurprisingly, quite different from my own.  Chabon writes at one point of his decision to carry a “murse”, a chapter that made my stomach turn, as did Chabon’s approach to a number of other subjects, including sex.

Manhood for Amateurs is richly written and insightful.  I would not recommend it to young readers or those with sensitive consciences.  It is an eloquent statement of a postmodern take on manhood.  Of course, in the end, the book struggles to find its footing on what exactly manhood is.  Chabon regularly notes that he eschews adherence to a masculine code, though this does not prevent him from offering his own ideas on the subject.

As a Christian, one is left awed by the writer’s gift, moved by a number of his stories (“The Hand on My Shoulder” is haunting), and unconvinced by his conception of manhood.  If Chabon gets a number of things right about manhood (including its uncertainty, its beauty, and its propensity for fiery self-destruction), he has lost sight of a sure foundation for manliness, the quarry which only the Word of God can provide.

Nonetheless, this book is worth reading, for those who can handle its mature content.  It walks through many of life’s most powerful experiences, illuminates the pain of a broken world, and shows how confused the modern world is about manhood.  It is beautifully written and would be a help to the writing Christian community, the prose of which trends toward dull mawkishness on the one hand and iron didacticism on the other.

Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft (Penguin, 2009) is another example of shining prose, good ideas, and the ultimate lack of a philosophical/theological foundation for its ideas.  Crawford, a PhD graduate of the University of Chicago and motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Virginia, writes to point out that modern society has devalued the trades, the manual occupations that allow people to get their hands dirty and build things.

His book is quite convincing.  Crawford argues that today’s educational zeitgeist militates against shop class and manual work, preferring instead the attainment of a college degree which may or may not actually equip students for meaningful work.  Crawford further argues that the modern workplace offers many workers (particularly middle-management) the opportunity not to perform important duties, but to manage workers’ moods.  Drawing, quite humorously, on his experience in a DC thinktank, Crawford makes a compelling case for his point.

The author’s background skews toward Stoicism.  As a Christian, one is left wondering whether Crawford’s view of the value of work possesses a sure base.  The Christian doctrine of the image of God, which imbues all of our activity with meaning, coupled with the Christian doctrine of the necessary glorification of God in all of life and work, seems a much stronger ground upon which to build our conception of labor.

But readers should not miss Crawford’s book (currently around #420 on Amazon).  It has reshaped my understanding of the importance of physical work, trades labor, and the modern workplace.  In short, I came away from it convinced of the need to both tackle manual challenges and to support tradesmen.  Shop-Class as Soulcraft shows that there is great intelligence and value in work done with one’s hands.  There is also a great need for skilled craftsmen, though few of us recognize this as we buzz through the technocracy.

We are simply wrong to think of craftsmen as less intellectually able than knowledge workers.  We should not send a significant portion of our students to college to earn degrees that will not benefit or fulfill them.  Furthermore, the modern workplace, replete with speech codes, is no promised land for young minds.  It is, as Crawford shows, filled with passive-aggressive signaling proceeding out of an unsure psychological climate in which no one is sure of their standing, and thus everyone says just enough to cover their tracks and rarely enough to implicate themselves should things go wrong.

Crawford is, as I said, an elegant writer, a deep thinker, and a persuasive apologist for the trades.  Those who enjoy cultivating the life of the mind in a variety of fields will benefit greatly from Shop-Class as Soulcraft.

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Women Fighting, and Men Doing Little About it

lailaaliI have been shocked of late to find two videos showing women enacting brutality against one another. Femininity is a contested sphere nowadays, both literally and figuratively.

First, I came across a video of a recent fight between women in a mall food court. A massive crowd watches the awful scene before two men–including basketball coaches Tim Floyd and Henry Bibby–gingerly break it up. Second, I watched in horror as college women’s soccer players battered one another, with one young woman outright attacking her opponents (the footage is gruesome, I warn you).

In previous days, you might have seen Laila Ali (in picture from BoxNews) battering another woman into submission. There is a common thread, I think, between both informal and formal female brutality. As femininity suffers in our professedly “gender-neutral” society, women adopt the habits of men, including their propensity for violence and aggression. The two fights listed above show examples of women acting in shocking and traditionally masculine ways. In neither instances is this development positive.

In a way that most people, and that includes many Christians, don’t think about, contact-oriented sports teach and encourage women to engage in typically masculine behavior. As researchers, following the scent of common sense, have found, women’s bodies cannot sustain the same level of contact as those of men (see Michael Sokolove’s Warrior Girls for much more on this point).

The Western tradition shows that people have for centuries recognized the body differences and role distinctions between men and women. Women have rarely fought on battlefields, for example. Now, our modern instincts teach us to be biased against that point (simply because it’s the overwhelmingly historic position), but it stands nonetheless.

Thanks to Title IX and other factors, women today regularly engage in contact sports–basketball, soccer, football, wrestling, and more. These endeavors encourage women to be less feminine and more masculine, a mindset that is bleeding over into the broader culture. As women attack one another, groveling on the ground, punching one another in the face, men do nothing. Or, maybe after a while, they wade into the conflict, hesitatingly breaking it up, fearful of being branded “macho”.

We’re in a bad situation today. Men are weak, hesitant, unsure of themselves, depressed, dragging through life, dropping out of school, abdicating their authority, letting their children run wild, barely raising their voice above a whisper. Meanwhile, women run themselves ragged, get into fights, struggle to both provide for the family and run the home, and grow frustrated with the shadow men they everywhere encounter.

Christian men, we need to wake up. We need to show the world what manhood looks like. We need to reclaim ourselves. We need to lift our voices, get off the couch, take a strong and stern lead in the discipline of our children, work ourselves hard to provide for our families, teach our girls to treasure their God-given femininity, teach our boys what it means to be robustly masculine, serve in the church, and generally live for the Lord. We need to be those who deploy our manhood for the good of women.

Femininity is a gentle, fragile thing. It is a precious thing. It must be guarded and preserved. It is inherent to a woman. You can’t put a girl into all of the same activities as a boy and expect that she’ll still possess her full femininity. If you do so, you will compromise aspects of her God-given womanhood.

Women do not need to weak or willowy. But neither should they be vicious and manly. We are teaching our daughters the wrong lessons today. One that we must consider is sports and general decorum. For the glory of God, girls should look and act differently than boys. For the glory of God, parents should teach girls to treasure and preserve their womanhood.

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The Lost Wilderness of Childhood

chabonThe provocative writer Michael Chabon recently published a marvelous essay called “Manhood for Amateurs” on the loss of what he calls the “Wilderness of Childhood” in the New York Review of Books.  In the piece, Chabon muses on the ways in which modern children have been robbed of the danger and wonder inherent in childhood exploration.

He writes of past days of freedom and adventure:

The thing that strikes me now when I think about the Wilderness of Childhood is the incredible degree of freedom my parents gave me to adventure there. A very grave, very significant shift in our idea of childhood has occurred since then. The Wilderness of Childhood is gone; the days of adventure are past. The land ruled by children, to which a kid might exile himself for at least some portion of every day from the neighboring kingdom of adulthood, has in large part been taken over, co-opted, colonized, and finally absorbed by the neighbors.

Chabon recounts a startling story of two neighboring children who have never met one another due to their cloistered childhoods:

We schedule their encounters for them, driving them to and from one another’s houses so they never get a chance to discover the unexplored lands between. If they are lucky, we send them out to play in the backyard, where they can be safely fenced in and even, in extreme cases, monitored with security cameras. When my family and I moved onto our street in Berkeley, the family next door included a nine-year-old girl; in the house two doors down the other way, there was a nine-year-old boy, her exact contemporary and, like her, a lifelong resident of the street. They had never met.

The whole piece is worth reading.  Chabon’s book of the same title, out next week, also looks like a great read.

There’s much to think about in this article.  Are we over-parenting?  Are we robbing our children of an important gift, the wilderness world where adventure, a little danger, and freedom wait to enchant and mature them?

I’m not sure.  I’m a young father.  I want my daughter to have a full and happy life.  But I also want to protect her.  I do sometimes wonder if our laments about the lost freedom of former days miss the fact that the world has become so much more complex and scary for parents.  Speaking without almighty facts or stats, we seem less innocent as a society now, less protective of children.  Many of us would love to set our kids free as we hear used to happen in former days, but there are many understandable obstacles in the way of a “liberated” childhood that some wish for.

I can say one thing.  I’m committed to not over-parent my children.  I want them to experience adventure, freedom, liberation, and a tiny bit of danger.  But fundamentally, I want to keep them safe, happy, and healthy.  In a modern world, we will have to work hard to reconcile these twin desires, trusting at all times in the providence of our great God, acting with all the wisdom and prudence we can muster.

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