Thursday, April 3, 2008

Male Rites of Passage

I am devouring research about male initiation. I truly believe that this accounts for so much of the social disarray among our young people. And I am enamored with the possibility of rallying the men of our church to first of all submit to God our Father’s initiation process for our own lives, and secondly, to take our young men on a journey into manhood. If we do not fill this role, then they will turn to follow peers and cheap thrills just to feel alive.

John Eldredge claims that the masculine soul was designed to long for an adventure to live, a battle to fight, and a beauty to rescue. This sounds like young men to me! However, most men do not live epic lives that embody these traits. It’s no wonder that youth are often repulsed by the spirituality of men. Besides, most young men are essentially fatherless. Either the father is absent, he’s present but disinterested, or he’s present and abusive. Any which way, it leaves a boy alone to face the world on his own. Fatherless.

Eldredge also claims that every boy is asking two questions. Brace yourself. 1. Am I loved? When Jesus was baptized the father’s voice came from declaring “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Every boy needs this question answered. 2. “Do I have what it takes.” Boys need the opportunity to test their strength, to take risks, and to demonstrate courage in order to answer this question. But they need a man to initiate them, and help them interpret their victories and failures so that they can rightly discover the answer to this question. Therefore, boys need validation and they need initiation.

I’ve also been reading a book called Adam’s Return by Richard Rohr. Wow. He’s got some brilliant research and insight, but every once in a while he says some really dumb things. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water though. He takes a raw and honest look that is quite refreshing.

Here’s a quote from Rohr’s book, From Wild Man to Wise Man:

In almost all cultures men are not born; they are made. Much more than for women, cultures have traditionally demanded initiation rites specifically for the boys. It is almost as if the biological experiences of menstruation and childbirth are enough wisdom lessons for women, but invariably men must be tried, limited, challenged, punished, hazed, circumcised, isolated, starved, stripped, and goaded into maturity. the pattern is nearly universal, and the only real exceptions are the recent secular West. Boy scouts, confirmation classes, Lions clubs and Elks clubs have tried to substitute, but with little spiritual effect.

Historically, the program was clear. The boy had to be separated from protective feminine energy, led into ritual space where newness and maleness could be experienced as holy; the boy had to be ritually wounded and tested, and there experience bonding with other men and loyalty to tribal values, and then have something to give back. The pattern is so widely documented that one is amazed that we have let go of it so easily. The contemporary experience of gangs, gender identity confusion, romanticization of war, aimless violence and homophobia will all grow unchecked, I predict, until boys are again mentored and formally taught by wise elders.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sacrifice and The Local Church

Church is a dangerous place often enough. I don’t know any honest person who hasn’t been burned by the church at one time or another. And I certainly know a lot of people who would never set foot back into a church for that very reason.

Yet I find there is a sinister irony at work. On the one hand, many people complain that the church is just an institution. Some follow Christ but aren’t part of the institutional church, and some don’t follow Christ at all for the same reason. I’ve certainly had my bitter moments with institutional Christianity. I agree that the church is the people and not the buildings and programs to which “church” so often refers. However, I find that people including myself oftentimes grow bitter with their local church because it’s not doing what we want. “This isn’t the way I want it” or “that could be done better”, and “why don’t we (meaning “they”, i.e., the leadership) do x,y, and z?” It’s as though there is this passive force within the human soul that wants a welfare institution. Now, I don’t doubt that some churches have power structures that would never allow regular lay-people to do some new thing — that’s oppressive. But there’s plenty of unwarranted belly-aching that merely perpetuates the whole institutional cycle. We’ve got the clergy and the laymen. The clergy need to make me happy or I’m going to bail!

Honestly, I’m just pondering this phenomenon with a clear conscience. I am not involved in any situations presently that would fit this bill, so I’m not venting or anything. Instead, I’m dreaming. I’m dreaming of a church that would wake up and get it:

Ask not what my church can do for me, but what I can do for my church.

This morning, as I pondered how we’re ever going to become a relevant force in society, the Lord brought this scripture Haggai 1:3-8 to mind:

3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

7 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD.

This came to me not as a word written long ago, but as a word that is being spoken this very moment. It has the sound of responsibility and sacrifice. We might have given up on the dream for which the apostle Paul gave his life. We might even say like the people in verse 2: “The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.” But it is time to consider our ways.