I first posted this after attending the 2009 London Men's Convention. I'm genuinely looking forward to the 2011 London Men's Convention (with Mark Driscoll!) and will be going with 25 guys from our church. I'm sure I'll learn loads and be encouraged. But I'll still be asking the same questions I did two years ago...
It's an age-old question, but it's taken the Flight of the Conchords to pose it again with aching poignancy:
What man? Which man? Who's the man?
When's a man a man?
What makes a man a man?
Am I a man?
Yes... technically I am.
On reflection there were two models of masculinity on show at the London Men's Convention on Saturday.
The first was communicated in mainly non-verbal ways. As John has put it, there was, at times, a 'Top Gear' spirituality (Top Gear is a popular British TV programme where middle aged men salivate over an array of sports cars). You can guess the kinds of things - jokes about sports teams, jokes about baldness (lots of them!), jokes about scrotums. All the usual stuff. There was an uncomfortable insistence on making fun of the main speaker (Tim Keller) in a laddish kind of, 'Hey, you big bald son of a gun. Not much hair on you is there? Baldy. You big bald son of a bald man. Ha!' That kind of thing. Graciously Keller did not call down bear attacks as was his right as prophet of the LORD. Now that really would have sorted out the men from the boys.
(Just as an aside - British men, the cruelty that passes for 'banter' among men is quite shocking for foreigners to cope with. On one hand I speak as someone who's lived here half his life and, for better and for worse, speaks the lingo. I also speak as an Australian male. But I confess that even we hard-headed convicts gape in wonder at the incessant jibes about 'Fatty' and 'Who ate all the pies?' when the man in question is only slightly overweight. Or 'baldy', when we're really dealing with a high forehead. Or - and I dare not even name what red-heads are called in this country. I would try to dissuade anyone with auburn hair or lighter from stepping foot in the British Isles. The word "Ginger" could be followed by any number of appellations, most of them four-letter. And this kind of culture is rife in the church too. Last night in the pub I heard two Christian men speak about another Christian friend in shockingly unChristian ways. But it was completely in keeping with this lads culture.)
Under this first model of masculinity we're told that we have a God given masculinity to be lived out. Which is true. We're told what a huge problem it is when men aren't real men. Which is true. But then it's basically assumed that everyone knows what a real man is.
So Mark Driscoll bemoans the prevalence of 'chickified' men in church.
Apparently the real men are those "watching a ball game, making money, climbing a mountain, shooting a gun, or working on their truck." And these are the men that are getting it done in the world. So Driscoll wants these kind of men in the church.
Well. Alright. It'd be great to have them in church. And yes, in some limited sense they'd make a welcome change from the other kind of false masculinity that abounds. But let's be clear - all natural masculinity is wicked. Masculinity as it occurs in its natural state is horribly and dangerously perverted. Whether the perversion occurs in the cowardly retreat direction or the aggressive domination direction, it's a perversion.
The other model of masculinity came in Keller's talk on the cross. He took us to Gethsemane where Jesus was at His wits end, craving the support of friends, crying, sweating blood contemplating the cross. The furnace of God's wrath lay ahead of Him. He begged His Father for another way. But there was no other way to save us. The prospect was simple: It was Him or us. And so Jesus said 'Father, Let it be me.'
That's a man.
Laying down His life for others, bearing shame in their place, accepting weakness to strengthen them. None of these things looked impressive. He looked like a total failure, naked and choking to death on a cross. He did not look manly. And men from all sides told Him so. They had all sorts of opinions about what Jesus needed to do to be a real man. They were all wrong. He reigned from that tree. Here was the manliest thing ever done.
And it has nothing to do with back-slapping dudesmanship. It's not about being mechanical or sports-loving. And it's not threatened by aesthetic sensitivity or quiet thoughtfulness. It's defined by heart-felt, loving, sacrificial service. It's stepping into the roles Christ has for us and saying 'My life for yours. My weakness for your strength. Father, Let it be me.'
Oh for real men! Oh to be a real man. But not like those 'real men' we're told to be.
More posts on masculinity: