I had one of these in the chamber for “Kaep”, but I decided it’s easier to just point you toward my friend and colleague Derrick Weston’s blog post.
Manly Men We’ve Covered So Far
We’ve had nine Profiles in Positive Masculinity so far, and I continue to enjoy the little bits of research. I think it’s very worthwhile to be constructive with regard to masculinity – not instead of deconstructive, but rather, to have something worthwhile left over. Popular culture continues not to really offer a positive alternative to toxic masculinity on the one hand and…nothing on the other hand, except agreement that toxic masculinity is bad.
Here is the list of scions of positive masculinity that I have discussed so far, with links in case you missed any and are curious. I’ve gotten some feedback, including encouragement as well as challenge, which has been helpful as I organize my thoughts and choose whom to profile. And don’t worry, we have plenty more coming!
Michael Forbes, who showed more backbone than the entirety of the US Republican Party
Justin Trudeau, who solved the puzzle of the Trump handshake
Nick Offerman, sawdust-covered oracle of self-reliance
Jimmy Carter, the nonagenarian former US President who will probably die with a hammer in his hand
Common, maintaining his moral compass as a hip-hop artist
Aziz Ansari used to go here – my bad.
Newt Scamander – here I just shared a cool video about one of the heroes of Fantastic Creatures and Where to Find Them
Neil deGrasse Tyson, science educator and actual heavyweight wrestler
Mister Rogers, who deserves the title “Saint” if anyone ever has
What I’ve Learned So Far
I don’t have a standing theory, or thesis, on what precisely positive masculinity is. Just the strong intuition that if there is toxic masculinity, there must be positive masculinity that exists in contrast to that. It can’t just be rapist dude-bros on the one hand and a silent mass on the other. Right?
So, what is common among these men, in my view? Not to be an exhaustive list, but as I go back over what I’ve written and thought about and learned, these are things that come to the forefront.
Strength could come in many different forms, but I think that part of positive masculinity is some kind of strength. It could be physical strength, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, or moral strength, like Mister Rogers or Jimmy Carter. Part of this strength is courage, since a person has to be there in the moment in order to bring their strength to bear.
Not all of you who have been following along have liked all of my choices, which is not surprising. But I think it is fair to say that each of these men is very much themselves. They have a strong sense of identity, and uphold a particular set of values, and you don’t have to look at them for very long to figure out what they are doing with their lives. Some of them ignore outside pressures to do what they think is right, while others simply have lives that hang together over the long-term.
Each of my examples of positive masculinity are makers. Common makes music, Aziz Ansari makes a television show, as did Mister Rogers. I’m not sure Justin Trudeau is a maker in the same sense, but I would argue that some creativity comes through in how he has governed as Prime Minister. Michael Forbes is a farmer; Nick Offerman makes beautiful canoes. And so on.
So then, for now, maybe positive masculinity is being strong, being yourself, and contributing something beautiful or useful (or both) to the world.
We’ll see what the next crop of many folks adds to this list…
What would you list as aspects of positive masculinity? What have you noticed that I missed? Feel free to comment.
Edit: Had a friend point out something I had missed – an attribute of positive masculinity as I am looking at it. That attribute is a commitment to make the world around them a better place. Each of these men, in their own way, is speaking out and/or taking action to make other people’s lives better. That’s a crucial attribute of positive masculinity, I think, and it definitely goes on the list with strength, integrity and creativity/making.
Tomorrow morning, earlier than I’d like, I start my new position in a year-long CPE program at a hospital in downtown SF. When discipline breaks and I let myself think about it, I realize I’m pretty nervous about the whole venture. Its a step up for me in a lot of ways, into a situation where I don’t have any background or familiarity – which is one of the things that makes it different from taking over for the senior pastor during my internship when he went on sabbatical.
One of the things I’ve learned through blogging is that there has to be a minimum baseline, a rapport if you will, between myself and another person before we can really talk about anything. Without this baseline, it seems that both of us are pretty much wasting our time. This is probably true of any conversation, any relationship – at a certain point, you’re just too different. When speaking about God, two people who share all of the other markers – ethnicity, language, culture, educational level and so on – can immediately start butting heads.
This has been pointed out by others, but often it is couched in terms like this: “Unless we all agree to Orthodoxy, we cannot have a conversation.” Here, as always, Orthodoxy is defined as what that person believes. If you’ve been reading this blog, or know me at all, you can probably imagine that my baseline won’t be most people’s idea of Orthodoxy.
I see this is a strength, of course.
The baseline seems to include:
1. God is bigger than our ideas. I meet a lot of people, through the blog and otherwise, who seem to think that God is exactly the same size as their ideas (or the ideas they’d claim to have inherited from the past, or whatever). This is alarming on a number of levels, and I find conversation with a person who believes this to be night impossible.
Of course we all have ideas about God, and we can even try to evaluate them (with little hope of success, given the history of such endeavors), but for me, there has to be the sense behind it all that we’re dabbling in things we cannot possibly explain fully.
2. We cannot take ourselves too seriously. Few things are as painful as talking to someone who can’t laugh at themselves. Its really quite sad, because I think it is a sign of brittleness, of a thin veneer stretched over a great deal of doubt and anxiety. Or its like talking to an assistant principal in middle school – often the definition of someone too big for their britches in my limited experience.
I’ve got that same load of anxiety myself, but the way I’ve found to deal with it is to laugh at myself – and to laugh at you too. The other option seems to be panicking whenever I say or try anything that I’m not already completely comfortable with.
Of course some things are serious – there are serious topics and serious times and serious situations – but the chance has to be there that we might get a laugh out of it now and then, or else I’m too uncomfortable to talk for very long.
3. This can’t devolve into a measuring contest. If we start into ‘my education is bigger than yours‘ or ‘who has the longest Orthodoxy in the room‘, the conversation is long dead and its time to move on. I’m not really interested in spending time in a theological locker room whipping out doctrines and Christian resumes.
In situations like that, you’re just stuck with someone who has something to prove to themselves. Let them prove it if they have to, and then maybe they’ll move on, but don’t get involved. This is their problem that they’re overcompensating for. There’s a wound somewhere in there, not a genuine cause for pride.
4. We’re in this together. I am not interested in winning. In fact, I think if your goal is winning, you are failing at Christianity. We are the losers who God bails out. That’s it. If you think you can benefit at my expense, you fail at Christianity. If you think we are all supposed to keep score, you fail at Christianity. If you want to tear someone else down to build yourself up, you fail at Christianity.
The only ethical option is for all of us to be in this together and to sink or swim together. We can’t chop off parts of the Body of Christ that we don’t like and let them sink. We can’t turn into some kind of sick theological autoimmune disease, attacking ourselves because we can’t recognize parts of our own Body. If we do this, we fail at Christianity.
So for me, this needs to be part of our conversation if we’re going to have one that is even remotely meaningful.
I think that is probably a good lesson to have learned, and I need to remember to hold myself to my own baseline. I could do a lot worse.
Ok, so I am totally done talking or thinking about politics because, long after most others I don’t doubt, I have discovered…
In contemplating a conscious end to this blog, I have been thinking about the various ways I can go about it. What it comes down to is that I lack the motivation – I’m not sure if it will come back. It might be that I just have too much on my mind, too much other writing I’m doing, too many jobs, too much laziness on top of everything. I don’t know.
Anything you’ve always wondered, before I call it quits? Lemme know.