A Reflection on Masculinity

A relatively new friend of mine helped start a men’s ministry in Colorado a number of years ago. In addition to remaining involved, he has also written a book about masculinity, so naturally our conversations gravitate to the topics of faith, gender, and the interplay both have in society. Gender on its own is a fascinating topic, and various cultures contribute to this discussion in unique ways and have their own approaches and understandings. Even the topic of masculinity can be broad and produce volumes of content. But this post will focus in a very limited way on my personal perspective of masculinity and my recent reflection on what it means to be a man in today’s American culture.

The recent gun debate helped kindle this reflection as well. I’ve been disappointed and frustrated more than once at the employment of antiquated male stereotypes to advance the case against gun control. Whether in friendly discourse or in the media, the inference that using a gun somehow makes a man more a man perpetuates this very shallow and limited understanding of masculinity.
The sexuality debate has contributed as well. Again, I won’t delve into this topic, but suffice it to say that assuming a heteronormative world contains male expression to just one category. This is a shame, because sexual expression, preference, orientation or whatever you choose to call it does not make a man. Being a man is complex and nuanced and can’t be easily labeled and placed in a box.

In fact, the whole “he’s all boy” narrative prompts me to roll my eyes because it is somehow implicitly stating that all boys and men are the same and enjoy the same things. That somehow boys who don’t enjoy hunting, fishing, and football are somehow less male. Frankly, it’s ridiculous. Some of our most beautiful contributions in art, music, and theatre have come from men. Are they somehow “less masculine”?

Admittedly, there are beautiful realities to gender. In many (not all) cases, women are more naturally gifted in certain areas than men, and vice versa. In my opinion, there are innate realities to gender and I celebrate this. My hope is not to repress or stifle traditional understandings of gender but to liberate them. My personal experience has only reinforced this.

Throughout our marriage, Kristan and I have unintentionally assumed traditional gender roles. I worked outside of the home earning income to pay bills and took care of the yard and any home repairs (or was often the case, simply arranged for the repairs). Kristan, in turn, worked inside the home as the primary caretaker for the children, preparing the meals, and taking care of “homemaking” duties.

As a result of her becoming disabled, we had to recalibrate these roles. In some ways our responsibilities have switched, with Kristan working more outside of the home (she’s building a business) and me taking on more responsibility for homemaking and childcare. I’ve learned to braid hair, I pack lunches, prepare dinner, and help coordinate children’s activities. In our traditional, let’s call it for what it is- sexist- culture, these were typically more female responsibilities.

But I’ve never felt more in touch with my masculinity. And herein lies my point: masculinity takes multiple forms. By stepping into the void and assuming uncharacteristic roles, I actually deepened my understanding of masculinity.

Reducing manliness to simplistic caricatures of gun-toting cowboys, boxers, and quarterbacks undermines true masculinity. True masculinity can’t be reduced to a set of proscribed behaviors rooted in dated stereotypes.

True masculinity is accountability, respect, and kindness.
True masculinity is courageous authenticity.
True masculinity is being male and being honest and free.

So let’s not reinforce and perpetuate these harmful notions. Let’s focus on meaningful character traits and reinforce the importance of dialing into your personal, unique gifts, whatever categories society might try to fit them in. Let’s liberate our sons and friends from the repressive chains of sexist labels and celebrate as our families, communities, and our world benefit from the joyous contributions of all human beings, regardless of their gender affiliation.

Radical Love in the Midst of Fear

In Chapter 6 of Luke, I am struck by the timeliness of the passage:

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31, NRSV).

In light of all that is going on in our world, the form of radical love Jesus is commanding in this passage is needed now more than ever. Mass shootings, extreme bullying, and unbridled political and religious aggression have all created (or are symptoms of) this frightening culture of fear and anger. Not only have we become a country afraid of its own shadow, but we are also strangely afraid of losing what we believe is “ours”. We are retreating into a culture of individualism when what we need now more than ever is the collective love of community. As the cliche goes, we are stronger together than apart.

But there are entire industries (and even political candidates) trying to capitalize on these fears and drive a wedge into communities. Gun manufacturers, insurance companies, and advanced security systems, to name a few, need you to be afraid so you’ll arm and protect yourself against real or imagined fears.

To be clear, there is some value in some of these efforts. But many are tapping in to this heightened paranoia to boost profits. At what expense?

In my view, at the core is a fear of scarcity:

I won’t be safe enough.
I won’t have what is duly “mine”.
If I have less, others will have more and that’s not “fair”
It’s about me me me.

But Jesus’ overarching message is there is nothing to fear. In God you have all you need. Jesus is calling us to a life of radical love and extreme generosity.

Love your enemies.
Give to everyone in need.
Care for your neighbor, don’t fear them.

So how do we actually live this out?

If there are refugees needing asylum, let’s rally together to welcome them and care for them, rather than buying into the fear mongering that one might be dangerous.

If our communities no longer feel safe, let’s compromise on gun control measures rather than draw lines in the sand. But more importantly, let’s have dialogue about ways to dismantle some of these fears so people don’t feel the need to walk around armed like it’s the wild wild west.

If our citizens are becoming increasingly sick, let’s collaborate to find a way for everyone to get the healthcare they need, rather than worrying about our personal taxes going up a few dollars.

This is radical love. It is not easy. And it surely is not comfortable. But the God of Creation has our back. Isn’t that enough?