Our society has often put an emphasis on being a “real” man. Unfortunately, the version of “real” we are being peddled is all too often a fantasy compilation that is just as false for men as the perfect body of the latest supermodel is for women.
The “disconnect” is all the more pronounced for young men struggling with their self-image. They look to culture, media, the “street” and wherever they sense belonging to define their identity. Sadly, they rarely get the acceptance or mentoring they need from home, school or even church.
The biggest challenge we all face, men and women, is to cut through all the smoke and mirrors of self-delusion and Madison Avenue hype and discover reality. Just being real may be the hardest thing of all.
Real men are men who are … well, real—that’s what Gordon Dalbey, a minister who specializes in male spirituality development, is looking for. I’m sure he’s not the only one saying it (thank goodness!) and was probably not the first to say it. A number of others know the importance of this concept. Robert Moore and Richard Rohr are a few of the pioneers. What they’ve discovered may surprise you.
[WHY CAN’T A MAN BE MORE LIKE A WOMAN?]
When the Women’s Movement took off in the ’70s, a cry went up for men to accept and endorse their liberation. Even further, many men were invited to become liberated too. This was confusing for a lot of men, and many of them mistakenly assumed that being more like women was the path. What we discovered is that you can’t just substitute one for the other. Despite our similarities, there are pronounced differences in the way men and women think and feel. We need to celebrate our diversity and seek to synthesize and synergize our differences.
Men all seem to struggle with an identity that is close to the core of their emotions, their sensitivity and their soft underbelly. Anything that closes in on these often off-limits areas of our lives makes us nervous and defensive. Could it be we don’t want to know ourselves? Or is it the misconception that treading on such hallowed ground displays a weakness and vulnerability?
If any man is honest with himself, he recognizes that it takes more strength and courage to be vulnerable. However, society keeps reinforcing the macho image, and when we suddenly are faced with anything that threatens that image, we immediately recoil. Often it takes a traumatic experience, something nearly soul-crushing, to get us to drop our guards.
[GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF IT]
A good hit upside our spiritual head can do wonders for waking men up to what is really important—so important, in fact, that the future of vital, healthy and whole men rests on each individual male coming to the awareness of his purpose.
Despite what men often think, being real requires an awakened soul, a spiritual rebirth accomplished through a process that has been lost for centuries to modern man. Throughout the ages, boys on the threshold of manhood were initiated into the way of masculine spirituality. It may not have been defined as such in all these cultures, but the goal was ultimately the same. Young men/boys were led through an experience of personal powerlessness and introduced into the way of living that requires courage, trust, faith and a willingness to help others. This help may be for the protection of the family (clan) or to be a supportive member of a “band of brothers.” Just like the Musketeers, the “all for one and one for all” call keeps young men from veering off into dangerous individualism. Men who don’t belong to something bigger than their own ego run the risk of becoming aggressive, angry, depressed or antisocial. Inevitably they will hit a wall, no matter how self-assured and confident they appear.
The rebirth process is part of our baptism, yet we often don’t go beyond the ritual aspects of it. There must be a mandate for belonging to a community that works together in God’s design. Otherwise we have a bunch of “loose canons” running around. That is the case in much of our modern society. No one is mentoring; no one is initiating the young men onto the spiritual path. And it is virtually impossible to do so if the very men whose task this is have never been initiated themselves! The cynical and self-seeking man has become the cultural norm.
The joining with others is insufficient if men are not enlightened to the reality of their true strength. It comes from facing self-centered powerlessness and discovering dependence on the power of God that dwells within. It is apparent that men cannot handle power, but can only abuse it, as long as they are unaware of the great responsibility of power. In the “letting go” to the higher power of God, men are directed into proper alignment with the world. Only when they are aligned properly can they begin to use power without abusing it.
So, men, let’s get real. We’ve got to quit hiding from ourselves, drop the blame game and stop running. No more macho acting out. No amount of chest beating is going to truly impress. Groveling in self-pity or pretending to be sensitive when we’re just being manipulative—this must cease. Each of us must turn to our true Father God and also turn to each other with courage, strength and caring. The elders have a responsibility to lead; the uninitiated, the novices, have a responsibility to learn.
[RESPECT AND HONOR]
The world is more than just the physical and the sensual. It is vastly more than our own self-centered views. The way of weakness in the face of and the surrender to great power does not mean ultimate failure. It is, however, a form of dying. It is necessary to die to one’s self, to the ego that misleads and is self-defeating. All transformed men must be integrated into the whole of community for the greater good. This means discovering that power is something to be respected, revered and honored. It seems we are incapable of discovering this on our own. We must be led through the ashes of our “self” funeral prior to the great awakening of power in unity with love. We must, as Flannery O’Connor once stated, “see this selfish side of yourself in order to turn away from it."
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