The Book of Man is an interesting look at what it means to be a man. William J. Bennett acknowledges that any definition of masculinity will lean heavily on culture. As a result, he has compiled a series of essays, profiles, stories, and poems collected around six themes (battle, work, leisure, civic involvement, family, and faith). Books dedicated to this topic are plentiful and each has its own unique angle. However, this is the first one I have read that allows the reader to form his own understanding of masculinity.
Bennett sees something of God designed masculinity in each of these six areas, but he never specifically states, “God created men to (blank)” He does not specifically call out or define God given masculinity and I appreciate this approach. It allows the reader to form his own opinion on what work, family, engagement with society, etc. have to do with who we were created to be as men. It allows us to form our own understanding. It would be a worthy exercise for any man to review this work and reflect on what God has to say and what you believe to be true about God’s design of men in each of these areas. The section on work particularly challenged me. I have to admit that this was not an area of masculinity that I had given much thought to prior to this reading, but Bennett led me to consider how God designed men with a core value of work.
My only critiques of The Book of Man is that Bennett’s collection of works does not include more scripture and the examples are predominantly Western. He does use some Biblical examples, David and Goliath, the parable of the talents, and the Lord’s Prayer for example, but it would have been nice to see some more Scripture. Since the book acknowledges a heavy leaning on culture, I would have also liked to have seen more examples from non-Western culture. How many stories, profiles, and poems could have been found in African or Asian culture? I suspect there are many, but few are represented in this book. I believe their inclusion it would have led to a more well-rounded cultural view of masculinity.
Traditionally this hymn was believed to have been written by St. Patrick during his ministry to the Irish, but it was likely written well after his death. Regardless of its origin, it is a wonderful prayer, and I thought I would share it here on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.
I have been reading Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward. Below is a quote from a chapter titled “Necessary Suffering” in which he writes about the important role suffering plays in our spiritual formation.
“Necessary suffering goes on every day, seemingly without question. As write this in the deserts of Arizona, I just read that only one saguaro cactus seed out of a quarter million seeds ever makes it to even early maturity, and even fewer after that. Most of nature seems to totally accept major loss, gross inefficiency, mass extinctions, and short life spans as the price of life at all.”
I wonder if our refusal to accept suffering as normal and valuable has some connection to the general lack of value we seem to place on life. If we, like Rohr says that nature does, accept that suffering is the price of life, I wonder if we would be forced to ask, “if this is the price of life, am I willing to pay it?” and when we hopefully answer affirmatively, will we begin to understand how precious life is? Would we value it more deeply? Would we seek after life, the abundant life promised by Jesus, with more intention and vigor?
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” -Matthew 16:25
A couple weeks ago my beloved Blackhawks were mired in a miserable 9 game losing streak. The only positive to the slump seemed to be the late start times on the west coast that saved me the disappointment of watching. But last week the Hawks turned things around. They have gone on to win four straight, and it turns out the late games weren’t the only good thing about the slump. A common refrain in the Hawks’ locker room recently has been that the lessons they learned in the slump are what led them to beat the hated Red Wings, an extremely hot Blues team, and the point leading Rangers.
It is interesting how it can take struggles for us to grow. When we are rolling along like the Hawks were at the start of the season, we can become complacent. We tend to believe we have everything together and we can sweep our shortcomings under the rug. Anyone with an ounce of hockey sense could see months ago that the Hawks were struggling on special teams (the power play and penalty kill) and that the goaltender play was not up to par. But when you continue to win it’s easy to ignore the deficiencies… until they jump up and bite you.
That’s exactly what happened when the Hawks went on their skid, but here they are in the midst of a four game win streak because the losing streak forced them to tighten up the penalty kill and Corey Crawford has made some adjustments in net (now if we can just get that power play rolling).
So why am I writing about the Blackhawks’ turn around in a blog about faith? In the same way that struggles initiated growth for the Hawks, I believe that struggle is an important catalyst for growth in our lives as well. I’ve always said that I believe we will grow more through a month of trials than a year of good times. When times are good we get comfortable. We lose our intention toward growth, and we often do whatever we can to protect our comfort. In tough times our struggles come front and center. We lose our masks and are forced to look in the mirror and see ourselves for who we really are. In the middle of struggles we tend to be more willing to do the hard work necessary for growth.
What if we were to embrace struggle? I don’t mean to suggest that we take embracing our struggles to the extreme and wallow in our pain, but what if we embrace it for the opportunity that it is? What if we saw the challenges we face not as something to avoid or survive, but something to wade into and thrive in the midst of? As we enter the Lenten season, a time of reflection on the passion of Jesus, what if we committed to change the way we view trials and pain? What if we start to see them as the chance to grow? What if we decide to see them as an important catalyst for our transformation into the people that God created us to be?
Intentional discipleship is surrendering to the Father’s will and walking in Jesus’ presence constantly.
Intentional discipleship brings every single aspect and every single moment of our lives into the discipleship relationship. Discipleship cannot be restricted to “spiritual times.” Jesus is a rabbi, and a rabbi teaches his students as they walk through life together. I often wonder if many of the parables were born out of something Jesus and his disciples observed in the midst of everyday life. Perhaps he saw a man planting a field and he said, “The kingdom of Heaven is like a man who planted good seed in his field” (Matthew 13:24), or maybe he began to teach, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1) after walking by the men waiting to be hired for the day.
When we walk through life as his disciples, we experience the same sort of teaching. Every day activities and experiences become valuable lessons and opportunities to be transformed. There are no mundane observations or experiences. Every moment is an opportunity for God to speak into our lives in a meaningful way. Remember, we are not asked to DO discipleship, but to BE disciples.
Brother Lawrence is known as “the kitchen saint” because he saw every moment of his day, even his time working in the kitchen (a job to which he had a “natural aversion”), as time in the presence of God. Brother Lawrence is a living example of what Paul describes when he teaches us to “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In fact, Lawrence thought the connectedness we experience in our everyday lives should flow into the set aside times of devotion rather than the other way around.
If we are going to be disciples, we have to understand that our whole lives must be connected to the vine. We don’t go to a “quiet time” and hope that experience can carry us through the rest of our day and the rest of our lives. A dedicated time for prayer, study and other spiritual practices are important and valuable, but we don’t leave God when we leave this time. We continue to follow Jesus and stay connected to the vine throughout our everyday lives.
 Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God: With Spiritual Maxims (Boston: New Seeds Books, 2005), 10, 15.
Intentional discipleship is surrendering to the Father’s will and walking in Jesus’ presence.
So how do we live the life of an intentional disciple? How do we stay connected to Jesus when he is not bodily present with us like he was with his first disciples? The answer is the spiritual discipline, or practices. If you read last week’s post, it may seem like I am writing in circles, but I am trying to make a subtle but important distinction in the way we see view the disciplines. A spiritual practice is anything that connects us to the vine, keeps us connected, or identifies and roots out obstacles to connectedness.
The practices themselves are not discipleship. The practices do not change us. What they do is connect us to the vine, ushering us into his presence. They connect us to the source of transformation. Reading Scripture is one such practice. When we engage Scripture, we open ourselves up to experience transformation in our lives, but it is not the reading that transforms us, it is the connection to the vine that the reading promotes that brings transformation into our lives.
This gives us a different perspective of the disciplines. We don’t do them because we should – though we should. We don’t do them for transformation – though they lead to transformation. We engage in spiritual practices because they connect us to the vine, and God uses that connection to transform us. In other words, the disciplines cultivate the characteristics of connectedness and make us aware of and help root out characteristics that obstruct connectedness.
The transformation we experience in our connection to the vine is not an instantaneous experience. It is an ongoing process. This is why we hear people refer to the Christian life as a journey. There is no magic pill or six easy steps to transformation. It is only abiding in his presence that brings real, honest, and true transformation. The point of intentional discipleship is not to act a certain way or follow a certain set of guidelines. The point is to become the kind of people who act a certain way. I don’t want to be someone who tries really hard to not sin. I want to be the kind of person whose desires and inner direction keeps me off the dark path of sin.
Tim Tebow may not be in the Super Bowl this weekend, but I suspect we’ll still be treated with a healthy dose of players thanking God for their victory around 9.30 CST Sunday night. I know a lot of people have a problem with this. Some get frustrated because they feel it lacks authenticity. Others buckle at the assumption that the athlete is suggesting that God preferred his team over the other. I understand those points. I suppose a number of athletes are not genuinely thanking “the man upstairs.” And no, I don’t think that God cares a whole lot about who wins Sunday’s game. But here is why I don’t have a problem with these guys thanking God after a victory
I am not talented enough to play a professional sport. You (I assume) are not gifted enough to make a living playing a game like football, but these guys are. There are 1,728 players on active NFL rosters. Add in the practice squads and you have 1,984 men who have enough talent to block, tackle, catch, throw or run well enough to make a living playing this wonderful game. That is 1984 out of seven billion people, or 0.00003% of the world’s population. That means you, your brother or your son has less than a one in a million shot to play in the NFL.
When you stop to think about the unique combination of talent, personality and passion that is required for these guys to make it, can there be any doubt that God created them to play football? There is no doubt in my mind that these men are living (at least in part) the life that God created them to live. So I cannot fault them for thanking God after a victory. Their thanks may not be genuine and God certainly doesn’t prefer the Giants to the Patriots, but there is no doubt who gave these guys the gifts that will allow them to play and win that game.
The simple truth here is that we all have a God given, unique combination of talents, personality and passions. We are created in this way for a purpose. God never gives us these things simply for our own good fortune. We are always given these gifts to pour out on the world. Our unique combination of talent, personality and passion are like a road map to the life that God created us to live. In short they point us toward our calling.
What are your talents, your personality, and your passions? How is God calling you to pour them out on the world? What is your calling? On what stage will you stand and thank God? If you can answer these questions and live your calling, well that might just be better than winning the super bowl (unless your name is Eli Manning).