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.