Archive for the 'Gender' Category

Man Dates Gone Mainstream: “I Love You, Man”

The second Thursday of the month is when I try to get together with my fraternity brothers (not as successful as I’d like to be) and eat at a great Chicago restaurant.  Most of the time, we laugh so hard that we can become “that annoying group of guys” where we try to leave a nicer tip because we know we could easily be seen as “those guys.” And thanks to better than average interpersonal skills, we are typically able to talk to the waitress and leave on good terms.

As I’ve interacted with a lot of circles of young men over the years, I still love my gatherings of fraternity brothers the most.  Just Thursday, we went from trying to solve the country’s economic crisis, to religion, to buffoonery and how to travel with a hangover, to farting, to the subtlties of Irish stouts, to understanding how to be a professional gambler, to education and community development.  My abdominals get a better workout than I get at the gym from laughing so hard.

But it’s interesting observation – when I go out, try to look at the gender dynamics around me.  More often than not I see larger groups of women than men, and men typically rarely congregate together without the company of women.

Anyone experience anything differently?

I’ve talked about this before, and ask any of my students I’ve mentored, but it looks like America is going to be talking a lot more about “man dates.”

(I still resolve that I did not hear either the terms “Man-Date” or “Dude-Date” before I started using this years ago – but that doesn’t matter anymore.  Totally should have copyrighted it or somethin’.)

Best quote of the preview:

“Society tells us to act civilized, but the truth is were animals, and sometimes you gotta let it out”

“Argh!”

“Respect the process”

“ARRGHHH!”

“Yeah, you feel better?

“Yeah!”

“You wanna get a corndog?”

“Yeah!!”

(Oh, and BTW, I have played Rush on Rock Band in similar fashion…T, I know you are smiling now for some reason and you don’t know why. And the fart conversation? Totally had that one too…)

I’m curious what America’s response will be. In college and post college, many men have a real hard time finding authentic friendship. I feel blessed to have some great male friends over the years – both in Christian communities as well as those outside of the church. I’m trying to get in a football league again where I can revisit the gridiron in all of it’s glory.

But I know my experience is the exception rather than the norm. Why is that?

As women have rightly gained more opportunities and are making the most of them, men often don’t know what to do with themselves. When men expected certain opportunities to be handed to them, they aren’t in the same way – which is a good thing.  But at the same time, I would argue that we haven’t advanced our understanding of male identity that can thrive in an age of feminism.  

I mean, Homer Simpson is America’s most recognizable international male figure other than the president.  Does that rub anyone else the wrong way?

I’m curious as to what conversations about genuine male friendship will happen over the course of the upcoming weeks.

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Out with the old, in with the new? New Feet, New Year.

2008 felt like one of the longer years in my life.

When I was driving back to Chicago from Wisconsin, I called my good friend Sandra and realized that while I love being with my family, this particular year wasn’t a very “restful time.”  It’s especially so in this year that has been more weighty, impending, and ominous with the sun setting on the life of a cherished member of my family.

So, when I was talking with Sandra, she texted me the next day and said that she thought I could use a break and asked me to come over early to her husband and her’s new year’s party.  Karl knows my family well also – he was a student of my brother Josh and was a housemate with him his first couple of years out of school.

Sandra gave me directions to her new place on the west side of the city, and I drove to meet her.  She told me to meet her at the public library, and as I came outside of the door she greeted me, saying, “You know, there are times where I am stressed out and just need to be in a place that feels like home – where I can be myself and be among others like me.  Because life is just sometimes hard, you know?  So I thought I’d help you find a place where you can relax like I relax, and feel at home.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.  We started walking, me fully expecting to go to pub of sorts where I could grab a Guinness and enjoy another in a long succession of great conversations with my friend and partner in ministry.

Was I in for a surprise.

Sandra stops short into this trendy, refurbished building with all of these voices…but these voices aren’t deep like the droan you hear in a bar.  And the lighting wasn’t dark, either.  And the smell was what was most jolting…and then I realized I was in for something totally unexpected.

“Welcome!” I saw a woman who looked like a Hispanic Lucille Ball, who greets me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

(That’s not normal pub ettiquette, in case you didn’t know.)

I look at Sandra, probably with the look of a scared dog in my eyes.  I can feel my face turning red because I’m embarrassed.  Why?

I realize I’m in a beauty salon, surrounded by probably 20-some Hispanic women.  I’m the only white guy in the joint.

(The song from Sesame Street runs through my head, “One of these things is not like the other, which one is different – do you know?”)

And Sandra signed me up for a pedicure behind my back.  She said, “Andy, there was no way I could get you to do this yourself, so I surprised you. SURPRISE!”  A devious-yet-innocent smile comes across her face…

I got totally punked.

I think to myself, “Somewhere my father is hurting and he doesn’t know why.”

Do I have to turn in my man card for this?

I regain my composure.  I think to myself, “OK, Andy, this is just another cross-cultural experience.  Everyone is speaking Spanish, and you can pick up about half of what is being said. Almost everyone around you is a woman, so just smile and nod.  Just remember to have an open posture…ask questions…you know, all those things I’m supposed to remember in the approaching differences diagram… like a good cross-cultural student.”

That was a lot easier when the coffee and rice pudding came. I can do this.

So, for the next hour, I get a pedicure (I’ve since learned that this is abbreviated, “pedi”).  I have ugly feet.  They’re calloused and mangled…not exactly worth looking at. The poor woman pedicure giver-er…

But I must say, this woman did a phenomenal job on my feet.  They felt lighter as I got them out of the little foot-bathtub-thingy, and I realized that this woman sanded off my callouses…I must have lost a pound in the process.  And my ugly feet got a little less ugly.

So, here’s to a new year – to great friends, funny pranks, and losing the callouses from the hard walk of life that keep us from seeing what really is.

A Mandate for Man Dates: Figuring out Masculinity in the church

My friend Chase posted this article on a term I started using about four years ago – the Man Date, or Dude Date.  The authors claim to have invented it; obviously they haven’t been hanging around me.

They should get out more. 🙂

I ask male students on “man dates” for a living.  It’s awkward.  What do most young men think when a campus minister like me asks them to grab a bite or coffee?  Exactly.  Awkward turtle.

Typically my day involves some sort of “man date.”  We can dress it up spiritually and call it discipleship, or if you are hip and postmodern you can call it “spiritual formation.”

Whatever.

But it’s just not normal until I have explained it to most guys and they eventually get it.  Then I tell them to have man dates as well, and they realize how awkward it is in our culture.  Eventually they get it.

Tomorrow I’m doing something that I have considered for a long time, but now just finally am doing it.  We’re launching the first men’s ministry with InterVarsity at Northwestern with an event called, “Dude Food.”

Why launch a men’s ministry?

I have thought about this a lot over the years.  I lean on the egalitarian perspective rather than complementarian in scripture – although I’m typically an equal opportunity offender.  I can argue either way if you want me to, and I bet I’ll win.  I know both sets of scriptures, and read books from both sides of the issue, and my conclusion is that both positions can be justified biblically.  I choose one because I believe in God’s purposes of redemption include the junk of our genders, and that the gifts he gives for the sake of the church aren’t specified by gender.

[Besides, anyone who says women shouldn’t lead in the church has neglected to observe that without women “serving,” (that’s Jesus’ code word for leading, by the way,) 99.6% of our churches wouldn’t run.  To be honest, if as much energy was put into developing young men as there is writing about this issue, I don’t think we’d be the position we are in: a lack of young male leaders in the church.]

Why do we lack male leaders?  Why do all campus ministries ask the question, “where are the men?”

I’ve swam in several Christian Communities over the years, and I’ve made several observations that answer the question, “Where are the men?”  I know that women often feel a double standard in this – that men are able to lead because they just decide to show up, and that is wrong. I hope to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem in this.

But the problem is that less and less men are showing up – and that’s bad for both genders.  Why don’t men show up?

1. We are misjudged. I’m smarter than I look – it isn’t hard. And I know when I enter a church I get this feeling that I’m being labeled as one of four things: a potential husband, a project to fix, a patriarch for the young boys in the church, or a predator trying to pick up chicks.  And I’ll be honest – I know men who are like each of these four “P’s.”

Now, we need potential husbands for women and patriarchs for our young boys.  And men do have their issues that need to be fixed – but we are more than our issues, and women would be advised not to take on projects as boyfriends.

[The predators I could do without.  They are just creepy.  If my sister was still single and dated one, I’d probably want to beat the crap out of him – in the name of Jesus, that is.  I confronted on playa in a church as he worked his way through the circuit once and just said that needed to stop.  He didn’t like me very much.]

But all in all, we need to be seen as persons in need of real relationships that go beyond sports scores and superficiality.  More men I know need this than ever, but they don’t have a venue that understands them well enough to engage them in it.  Why?  That leads to number 2.

2. We are misunderstood. Most young men have to deal with some level of anger in their lives.  And while I understand both women and men have to deal with anger, but men’s anger is considered dangerous – because sometimes it actually is.  Especially in the Christian community where we are expected to be “nice guys.”  And nice guys don’t get angry.

Ever listen to the music most young men listen to?  I don’t care what genre you pull from, I bet you that at least half of the demographic deals with anger (or sex…but that is another topic for another time.)  From hip-hop to hard rock, you’ll see that many young men are working out some kind of anger.

Why are video games so popular among young men?  We get to work out our anger, and often times we do so in a way where we shoot something and win.  It’s the same with sports – they are controlled safe place that can be mastered as opposed to the uncontrolled world around us.  And that world of uncertainty and messiness stresses us out.

But unlike women, who are more developed relationally, the stress from our lives is only compounded through out inability to connect with other men – as evidenced by the uncomfortableness of the “man date.”  So where does that leave us?  Number 3.

3. We don’t feel like we belong. When we walk into a church or a fellowship, sitting in a circle talking about our feelings is not exactly what we are looking for.  I have learned to do this because this is what it takes to be heard in a Christian community, but it is certainly learned behavior.

When I was growing up, and if I hurt something, I can still hear the adage from my coaches in my head, “Rub some dirt on it and you’ll be fine.”  Many of us were taught that when something hurts, you suck it up and deal, ignore the pain, and get back out there.  When other people start talking about their pain in life, which is a very common occurence in the church (and should be), men’s natural inclination is to either flee or tell others to fix the problem – rub some dirt on it – both of which are not really accepted in the church, and for good reasons.

But most of us don’t know another way…until we are taught.

This is why I’m trying to figure out a new way of doing ministry to men – enacting a mandate for man dates, if you will. I’ll take suggestions, if you have them.

I mean, if it can work for Fight Club, it can work in the Kingdom, right?

Sex and Caricatures: Do not mix. Try contentment instead.

I saw a screening of a documentary entitled, “For The Bible Tells Me So,” at Northwestern last week. It’s a film that profiled five Christian families with one member of the family who is gay or lesbian, including the family of Senator Dick Gephardt and openly gay episcopal bishop Gene Robinson.

You can see the trailer here.

It was a very well done film. Daniel Karslake, the director, does an excellent job of getting into the lives of these families and making them real. He does keep the complexity about how the families responded. He creates great tension in the film, and for that I applaud him.

Documentaries are all the rage now, but several things bothered me about this film that led more toward a docu-drama than documentary. First, it portrays a very one-sided view of the interpretation of scripture. It basically leads the audience to believe that the Bible’s texts on homosexuality are all simply culturally based, quoting mostly liberal scholars who believe the Bible’s authority is simply cultural as well. Not surprisingly, Karslake quotes only one scholar who came from the Christian communities that he caricatured. For good insight into this, read Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis by William Webb.

Second, it parodies the nature-nurture debate in a cartoon. I understand the intent, but to mock those are serious about the issues in cartoon form is just bad form. There are tons of materials on this, but the book that has helped me enter into this part of the conversation insightfully is Straight and Narrow? Clarity and Compassion in the Gay Debate.

Finally, it bothers me most in that I don’t fit in the categories of the film. The film requires you to choose between homosexuality or homophobia as sin. You aren’t given option to believe both are sinful – it doesn’t open the conversation regarding this complexity, it closes it by forcing the audience into either camp.

The film then moves to show the political activist route as the way to see how change will happen in this arena. Everyone leaves the film thinking how they need to change the church to abandon it’s ignorant readings of scripture.

So, really, the film is informed propaganda that caricatures evangelical Christians, and all but one of the negative examples used in the film were white men.

Ding ding ding – that’s me. Yet again, I’m caricatured to be the legitimate and deserving object of anger of another group.

Why am I not surprised?

Most American Evangelical Christians don’t think about this much, but there is an underlying assumption here that needs to be uncovered to reveal much of the tension in the gay debate. In the church, and in the greater society, we’ve idolized the family, and made it a requirement for contentment. We’ve made it so that unless you have a spouse and kids, you are substandard and second class. If you don’t think so, ask a single friend in the church, or a married couple that doesn’t have children.

There’s nothing wrong with the family. We need healthy, Godly families. I came from one. I absolutely love my family. I love being an uncle to my nephews and brother and cousin and son and grandson. Someday, I hope to be a husband and father. But I might not.

There is nothing wrong with the family until it is prescribed as the ideal for all. And that’s what we have done in the American church.

Think about it. We celebrate Mothers’ Day in church (and we make sure they are honored), we celebrate Fathers’ Day (when the dads are actually there).

Do we celebrate singles? Or are we just assuming that someday they will get their turn to be celebrated when they leave celibacy when they achieve motherhood and fatherhood status? If we do, we are caricaturing singleness, and even more so, sexuality.

We don’t do well with teaching something where we are told we can’t have something. Clearly, the way we are taught in scriptures is the way of contentment. Yet while we may say it from the pulpit, we’ve not lived in a way that tells people to be content with what they have. We’ve taught them to want it all, and worse, that they are entitled to it all, they deserve it all.

When we think we are entitled to have it all, someone should caricature us. We deserve it.

Contentment teaches me that in my single state, sexuality is something that needs to be restrained for the sake of pouring my love into others who are able to love others as well. Singleness is sacramental, just like marriage is sacramental. In singleness, when we try to love our neighbor as ourselves we have to work to be present with our neighbors to love them; but loving them can be slightly easier because we can go home away from them. In marriage, after the honeymoon, your “neighbor” wakes up with bad breath and farts under the covers, making love much more difficult than it was on the honeymoon.

Both states are sacramental – embodied ways for love to be a reality in our lives. Can you be a single lover? I think so…I wish the church did.

Which leads me back to my original point about the film (yes, I have wandered, haven’t I?) The film demeans sexuality not in it’s expression, but in it’s simplistic view of sexuality. Talking about sexuality in terms of copulation partners will continually frustrate us because we assume that seeking sexual pleasure is a prerequisite for contentment.

When we demand our own way from God, even by justifying it by our biological nature, we ultimately tell God that we aren’t content with what he says. Contentment as the way ultimately invites us to trust God; that he will give us the desire of our hearts. We sacrifice entitlement for trust and faith and hope.

I say it’s worth it.

Perhaps then we will learn Paul’s secret of being content in any and every situation (Phil 4:12).

When Satire Cuts Deep…

My friend Eddy posted an interesting list the other day…you can see it here.

It has elicited a range of responses from several folks – laughter, anger, tears, depression, rage, angst…lots of stuff comes up when the topic of women in leadership in the church comes up.

It’s curious how satire brings so many emotions and thoughts to the surface. Think of what you will of these responses, but the feelings everyone has are all real. Real feelings come from real experiences, real experiences come from real life.

Make no mistake, trying to interpret who is right and wrong in this conversation is not the way to go about thinking here. That usually goes the way of defensiveness, and many folks in this conversation seem to follow the much-maligned coaching strategy that the best defense is a good offense.  Colin Hansen’s insight’s from CT are precious regarding this: “But what will it gain the kingdom if one side wins the debate but we all forfeit the culture?”

Some people think that comment is morally or doctrinally relativistic, that I’m trying to bring everyone to the table to be heard. Some will quote some scriptures. Others retort with their scriptures. But we hurt others and are hurt when we neglect the way of love when working out the issues that I believe God knowingly left ambiguous in order to trust the body of Christ to pursue the way of love together in reflecting his image as male and female.

I’m a young white male (well, I still have something left to my twenties) in who serves in an evangelical collegiate campus ministry. Within the campus ministry I serve, the typical student or staff is neither white nor male. As I’ve heard their stories, and engaged in conversation, I’ve been saddened because the incidents aren’t isolated but are part of the fabric of the American church today.

At the same time, I know whenever I walk into a conversation along these lines, I know I’m being silently judged by what camp I’m in, how insensitive or sensitive I am to the plight of Christian women in leadership, how much of a man I am, what scriptures I quote, my stories, etc.

In other words, I’m walking on eggshells. And I’m typically an equal opportunity offender, so I’ll probably be making a lot of scrambled eggs from the following thoughts…

When one removes gender as the exclusive requirement for biblical leadership, what becomes the basis for leadership in the church? Honestly, I think many of us men have really struggled with this in evangelical circles, because men in the church are used to entitlement and assume because we just “show up” women will follow us. We assume that since we’ve arrived, we should be followed.

And that is wrong. And it is arrogant. And it is presumptuous.

When leadership is based on the presence of certain genitals, it castrates the high calling of leadership in which we are called not to have certain parts, but become part of Christ. Literally, we are to be more and more fully “in Christ” according to Paul’s most repeated phrase, which is far more more demanding than anything I’ve ever tried in my life. Running a marathon, working a 100-hour week or a 24-hour day, sacking a quarterback, splitting a few cords of wood, backpacking for days in the wilderness, or hitting a 1-2 curveball in the right-center gap for a triple – all of these “manly” activities I’ve performed are quite easy compared to becoming more like Jesus.

Men, do you ever wonder why God incarnated himself in our gender? We do have an advantage here over our sisters – I think God graciously gave us clarity on this one. We do know that what it means to be a “godly man” is personified in the God-man, Jesus. So stop thinking that Jesus is like some spiritual first century Hulk Hogan or buying into John Eldridge’s lacking Wild at Heart theology that becoming a man is about getting in touch with your recklessness. I love God’s creation as much as anyone, but my masculinity is not defined by my capacity to be “wild.”

When we do this, we make God in our own image…and that is really, really bad. It’s called idolatry. God calls it sin. And when we impress this distortion of God on someone else, it gets worse. It’s called oppression. And we’ve historically oppressed women in the church, and we need to repent. That’s what it means to be manly – to own up to sin and resolve to become more a man of God, like Jesus, the God-man.

At the same time, we are in a time where there are fewer and fewer men in the church. As a man committed to the church, I’m deeply concerned. I see fewer and fewer mature Christian men. And I’m not just sad; I’m embarrassed. I get more embarrassed when I read comments men make regarding reclaiming masculinity in the church through shallow thought and superficial practice.

But honestly, I’m just as embarrassed by women’s response to the lack of men in the church. In my circle of friends, women can go the way of nagging and complaining to the point of exhaustion with veiled accusations under the subject heading, “where are the men?”

As a single man in the church, I’ve encountered various experiences of being considered a project (someone who can be made into a woman’s ideal man), a predator (someone looking for his next date), or a patriarch (someone who can be a good male role model for the kids in church), and rarely just a person trying to connect with God and others. Welcome is often a word that is far from most men’s experience in the church these days.

I was speaking with a Christian woman in church who wanted to talk with me about her husband. I took a cue from a pastor I heard and told her that I would prefer to talk with her husband first without her description of him. In other words, I will talk with her, or her husband, but I would not talk with her about her husband.

Talking with her about her husband would not give me the opportunity to meet him first on his ground and extend him the grace he needs; taking her cues, I’d be the enlisted as “Mr. Christian Fix-it guy” to all of her problems with her project husband.

Unfortunately, she declined the opportunity. I still wonder why…

Welcome is not the experience most men feel in today’s church; anxiety regarding our failures and shortcomings is, apathy regarding the applicability of the church in our lives is a close second. Men struggle with grace because most of us live lives are predicated on achievement. Walking into a place where we are told where we lack is not welcoming, however true it may be.

And sadly, I’m just as embarrassed by women’s mudslinging, catty, caricatured, “you-go-girl” responses regarding the issue of leadership. I’m sorry for the double standard that women face, and it is wrong. That’s why I’m trying to fight it so that women have a place at the table for their voice to be heard. But for those of us who are trying, it’s hard enough to advocate when women in leadership who provide foolish fodder and ridiculous rhetoric for men as confirmation of their existing prejudices. The way of love is lost, and we’re reduced to a cheap substitute.

In the words of Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Jerry MacGuire, “help me help you.” Don’t stoop to their level. You are no better than they when you do.

I know I’ve probably offended equally here, but that is the point. We all are in need of grace. Both genders have our junk that we bring to the table in this conversation, and the way of love means we need to own up to our issues.

Can we find the way of love together?


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