Thinking About Church Masculinity

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Wednesday nights I teach a men’s Bible study. We have been going through the video series Men’s Fraternity. Now I’m not a fan of “rah-rah I’m a man” sort of things. Popular Christian author John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart caused me to shy away from hypermasculinity. As a guy who is not super physical, I’m just not into his gospel.

Erwin McManus wrote a short book called The Barbarian Way. This book helped begin the healing process from the damage Eldredge caused:

Somewhere along the way the movement of Jesus Christ became civilized as Christianity… We created a religion using the name of Jesus Christ and convinced ourselves that God’s optimal desire for our lives was to insulate us in a spiritual bubble where we risk nothing, sacrifice nothing, lose nothing, worry about nothing. I wonder how many of us have lost our barbarian way and have become embittered with God, confused in our faith because God doesn’t come through the way we think He should.

Donald Miller’s book Father Fiction also helped refine my thoughts on masculinity– you can read those here and here–. Miller concludes, in a humorous way, that men know that they are men by the way God designed them (anatomy). Most other Christian men’s books try and come up with some sort of vague definition on what being a man looks like. I find this confusing, not helpful, and destructive.

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Men’s Fraternity has been a good series so far. The content is relevant and applicable. But, I have disliked the format that the series forms.

Wednesday night looks like this:

  • We get together (many of the guys coming in late).
  • We have an hour and a half to watch the video and discuss.
  • We end up starting 30 minutes late due to the guys wanting to talk.
  • We start the video. The videos vary in length from 45 minutes to 50 minutes at max.
  • We Watch the video.
  • We then have 15-20 minutes to discuss.

I find it unnatural to walk into a room, sit down, and watch a video with a group of guys I haven’t talked with, at all. I have no clue how their week has gone, how they are doing on a personal level, etc. There is no chance to build relationships.

I am currently debating on whether to summarize the video’s material and then lead a more pointed discussion or even go back to our read a book of the Bible and have a discussion format. We’ll see what happens.

Scary Close – Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller

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“The strongest character in a story isn’t the hero, it’s the guide.” – p16

“Sometimes the story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.” – p22

I first discovered Donald Miller in college. I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t sure about my Christian faith anymore. There was a disconnect between the Christians I read about in the Bible and the Christians I met everyday. Tired of the hypocrisy, I found honesty in Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. Someone was finally writing from a perspective that felt authentic. God used Miller’s words to remind me of the freedom we have in Christ; He used Donald Miller to bring me back to Him.

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“The problem is this: those of us who are never satisfied with our accomplishments secretly believe nobody will love us unless we’re perfect.” – p44

Throughout the years, Don and I have checked in, though he doesn’t know it. His book on growing up without a father, Father Fiction, helped me to heal wounds of the past. Father Fiction encouraged me to be a dad who is real with my son. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years taught me the importance of living the story God is writing with me. Don always seems to come along and speak into my life when I need it most.

“Love can’t be earned, it can only be given. And it can only be exchanged by people who are completely true with each other.”

Scary Close chronicles Don’s journey to define and live out relationships that are healthy. His relationships with family, career, and even his thought life began to change as he cast aside the masks that prevented him from finding true intimacy. The book is set against the backdrop of Don dating his now wife, Betsy. His courtship of her, witnessing positive relationship examples in her family, only served to spur his change. The season before marriage sheds light on things before held in darkness and forces one to deal with the past. Reading Scary Close is to watch Don transform into the man God has always called him to be. Not perfect, no, but healthy and more whole.

God used Scary Close to remind me of the importance of being honest and open with others, especially my wife. He also reminded me of why I love her so much, of all of the neat parts that make up who she is. As Don puts it, “Intimacy means we are independently together.” Relationships can easily become unhealthy. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective, such as reading a book like Scary Close, to make one see things for what they are.

I enjoyed my time with Scary Close. As Bob Goff said in the forward, “This book will help you sort the junk mail you’ve been bringing to your relationships.” Definitely pick up Scary Close if you have a chance.

Quotes to share:

“I’ll add this to the mix too: I believe God is a fan of people connecting and I think the enemy of God is a fan of people breaking off into paranoid tribes. And I think all the clanging pots and pans in the kitchen to scare people from the territory we feel compelled to defend is playing into the hands of dark forces. I think a lot of the shame-based religious and political methodology has more to do with keeping people contained than with setting them free. And I’m no fan of it.” – 124

“…kids with parents who are honest about their shortcomings seem to do better in life.” – p157

“I remember growing up in church hearing about how there was a hole in our hearts that could only be filled by Jesus, but later in life when I became a Jesus guy myself I continued to experience the longing. He simply wasn’t doing it. The experience was so frustrating I almost walked away from faith.

Later, though, I read in the Bible about how there will be a wedding in heaven and how, someday, we will be reunited with God. The Bible paints a beautiful picture of a lion laying down with a lamb, of all our tears being wiped away, of a mediator creating peace and a King ruling with wisdom and kindness. The language is scattered and often vague, but there’s no question something in the souls of men will be healed and perhaps even made complete once we are united with God and not a second before. What differentiates true Christianity from the pulp many people buy into is that Jesus never offers that completion here on earth. He only asks us to trust him and follow him to the metaphorical wedding we will experience in heaven.” – p214

I was given a copy of this book by BookLook Bloggers. All opinions are my own. I was not required to write a positive review.

A Response to Donald Miller: Who is Teaching You?

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Dear Don,
Back in college, God used your book Blue Like Jazz to help me battle through the rampant hypocrisy and legalism I was experiencing on a daily basis. Other Christians were causing me to want to walk away from Christianity and Christ himself due to their actions. Your book showed me that a Christian can indeed smoke a pipe and drink without fear of condemnation. You showed me that a Christian can be human. I thank you for that.

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I don’t know if you know yet but good books for a young dad are hard to find. Your book Father Fiction could be the best book about being a dad I have ever read. By the time I finished reading it, my perspective on fatherhood was forever changed. I now look at my son as God looks at him. Thank you once more.

As you can see, you have been a big influence in my life. Which is why your blog post entitled “I Don’t Worship God by Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere.” surprised me. You see, I don’t have a problem with your learning style nor the fact that you do not connect with God by singing. I can understand that.

“It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him.”

“Interestingly, I learn a great deal by teaching, which is interesting to me.”

What troubles me is that you say that you learn through teaching. Don, if you only learn by teaching others, who is teaching you? Who are you allowing to influence you spiritually on a weekly basis?

I am not naive enough to say that I know you, even though you have been there for me when I have most needed someone to be authentic. But I am concerned, Don. No man is an island. I think it is great that you have a company and people who surround you. But again, if you are only teaching others, who is teaching you?

You have made yourself an island with full anti-aircraft weapons at ready.

Your concerned friend and brother in Christ,
Bryan

Edit: Jonathan Leeman wrote a very heartfelt response to you, Don. I especially liked the part where he talks about Tom and the body of Christ.

Thoughts on Father Fiction: Part 2

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“These aren’t guys who complain about their bosses or disrespect their wives. And so, naturally, when I encounter men who do that sort of thing, it strikes me as weak, and I pull away. That’s just not who I am. Or rather, that’s just not who I want to become.”

In my last post, I pondered the lack of a close “board of directors” and celebrated friends that walk in life with me, though distant (read here). Today I want to talk about the above quote from Chapter 9 of Donald Miller’s Father Fiction.

As Miller concludes his chapter on friendship, he talks about not hanging out with those that display traits he doesn’t want to take on. This got me thinking about the image I project.

  • Am I someone that others would want to be friends with?
  • Am I someone that someone else would want to be like?
  • Am I dragging someone down due to my attitude or actions?
How about you? Do you:
  • Complain about your boss all the time and do nothing about it?
  • Do you talk about your wife behind her back, effectively undermining her in front of others?
I want to live my life in a way where others can see Christ living and working in me. Don’t you?

Thoughts on Father Fiction: Part 1

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For my 30th birthday, I was given a gift card to Barnes & Noble from my in-laws. They know that I like reading with my Nook and knew that I would be quite happy with some new reading material. One of the first purchases I made with my birthday loot was Donald Miller’s Father Fiction. In the past, I had read Miller’s Blue Like Jazz and was greatly influenced by his real thoughts about living the Christian life. So, I saw Father Fiction and decided to jump in.

In the course of my reading, today I came upon the chapter on friendship. Spanning no more than a couple of pages in length, the chapter on friendship contained a simple line that stirred something up within me. Miller writes:

We become like the people we hang out with.

Immediately, my brain went into overdrive. I found myself questioning:

  • How are my current friendships influencing me?
  • Do I surround myself with friends who lift me up or tear me down?
  • Are there any friends that are dragging me down/ keeping me from realizing my God-given potential?

I mean, there is nothing wrong with any of the friends I have. None of them are drug dealers or are engaged in questionable moral dealings that would one day lead me to prison. No, the guys I have allowed to speak into my life are solid. Many of them I have known all throughout my formative years. In a way, I am lucky to have guys like this in my life; guys who have seen me at my best and most certainly at my worst. In fact, I have always prided myself on having a “Personal Board of Directors”.

Miller continued the chapter by talking about his intentional recruitment of a group of guys to help him do life with.

A few years ago, I handpicked some guys I wanted to be friends with. I already had some good friends, but knowing you become like the people you hang around, I decided I wanted to take more responsibility for who I was becoming. I looked around and identified about four guys who didn’t know each other very well, but each of whom I wanted to be like in some way. They owned their own businesses, they were faithful to their wives, they were intelligent. I asked each of them if they would get together for breakfast on Tuesday mornings in Portland. To my surprise, each of them said yes. And so we met.

As time and life have marched forward, I have found myself separated by literally over a thousand miles from my some of my board of directors. The guys I grew up with are far away from the small part of Texas I call home. Even though we have the Internet, this has made the “doing life” part of our friendships tough.

In college, I picked up another set of friends to do life with. Guys who enjoyed deep conversations about life and were honest in giving their opinion. Upon graduation, we each went our separate ways. We do, however, still talk on the phone every few months and pick up quite easily. I love friendships like this. My friend Jon (I have many!) told me that this particular group of friends are like lone wolves. Every once in awhile we check back in with the pack but are otherwise trailblazing forward into the greater wilds. I love that rugged mental picture.

I guess where I am going with all of this is that Miller’s chapter on friendship has made me realize that I don’t have a group of guys, locally, to meet up with. If I have learned anything in life it is that finding people that you can be yourself around is hard. Good friends are hard to come by. This is why I treasure my friendships with those that have traveled along the heat-soaked roads of life with me.