The problem I am addressing in this second blog entry on the subject is neither men nor masculinity per se. Its mainstream masculine culture, characterized by what I call “the unholy trinity” of machismo, misogyny and militarism. The world is currently focused on how or if men should love each other sexually. I’m more distressed by the extent to which men are killing each other.
But in the Bible I see men who modeled a masculinity that is more reflective of what God made Adam for. Of course there is Jesus, the Second Adam, who treated women in ways that were subversive and counter-cultural for First Century Palestine, as well as Twenty-First Century America. He is probably the first Jewish rabbi on record to have female disciples, like Mary and Martha, who “sat at Jesus’ feet,” a reference to the disciple’s proper position vis a vis his/her teacher. In Jesus and his treatment of women we see restored the equality, interdependence and mutuality of men and women with which, and for which, humanity was created, whether married or not.
Another male role model who never took up a weapon was Daniel, whose courage, unarmed, went “above and beyond the call of duty.” Fighting on his knees in prayer, sitting calmly and quietly among lions, speaking truth to power, Daniel was not afraid of his power. But never did he abuse it by violence, domination or self-aggrandizement.
In mainstream masculine cultures there is often a crazy-making attraction/aversion complex about homosexuality, fearing it on one hand, and joking about it on the other. It is almost as though the only two choices for males relating to males is either to be engaged with each other violently, in combat or competition, or to be engaged with each other sexually. Violence and/or sexual activity are often considered the sole or the supreme forms of male bonding and intimacy.
Men should love each other, deeply and intimately. When Jesus told his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, but friends (Jn. 15: 25),” he was explaining and inviting them to a way of intimacy with himself and each other that departed from the common and contemporary pagan views of male-to-male intimacy, either, again, through violence or sexual activity with each other, or both. There are long-standing Christian traditions which also give men and women ways to love others of their own genders deeply and intimately. Such love is the entire aim of The Rule of St. Benedict, developed in the 6th Century AD for managing monastic communities. It not only includes guidance on spiritual and material aspects of the lives of monastic men and women, it also contains guidelines to prevent or discourage them from being sexually active with each other.
I doubt that that was because St. Benedict was a macho man with a hysterical, knee-jerk homophobic complex. Rather, he understood, like too few people do today, that sexual intimacy is not always nor automatically the most intimate of intimacies. Benedict knew that the spiritual maturity and intimacy among men that he wanted to see would be short-circuited by physical sexual intimacy. The intimacy among men that Benedict encourages would scandalize both today’s mainstream macho types, because it is so tender, deep, honest and unconditional, as it would the most ardent advocates of the Sexual Revolution, because it is chaste.
The Rule of St. Benedict aims for an intimacy of prayer, of confession, of worship, of mutual aid and of common labor together. Its no accident that men especially (but not uniquely) experience deep bonding through laboring together, when they can see a visible result they have achieved together, such as a building project, a cleared field, or a project that improved other people’s lives. Both labor and prayer are key to life together under The Rule of St. Benedict: “Ora et Labora.” Theirs is an intimacy of listening ears, helping hands, sweating backs, worshiping spirits, and loving hearts, developed over years of commitment and communication with each other as friends.
As a pastor and a Christian, this is when I have also experienced deep intimacy with members and friends of the church. Our shared life of prayer, worship, mutual aid, and honest accountability to each other, can become, over time, quite deep and intimate. We are growing an intimacy of spirit, Word and worship. My sex, as a male, has an important effect on this intimacy. But should any of these relationships become sexualized, all other intimacy and trust would be lost and come crashing down, at a terrible price to all.
Travel much of the world and you will see many monuments on many battlefields to soldiers who fought and died there. But for the armies of the losing sides at least, no lasting results remain for their many human sacrifices. I’m not always sure what it is that the winners gained, either. The permanent Communist revolution for which the Red and White Armies fought in Russia nearly a hundred years ago is no more. By contrast, some of the most powerful and enduring changes in the world have come about by persons who never lifted a sword or fired a gun, but who still exercised power, as men. Mahatma Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were powerful and influential men. They were also pacifists, who did their fighting unarmed. While neither of them were blameless in their relationships with women (King had some extra-marital affairs, and Ghandi became celibate without consulting his wife), they both exercised power, as men, in ways that were constructive, not destructive, peaceful, nonviolent, and respectful, not contemptuous. They took responsibility for the powers that came with their masculinity, and used them to make a better world with and for women and children, and for the generations to come, as well as for themselves. I think that’s what masculinity is supposed to be about.
Pastor Mathew Swora, Emmanuel Mennonite Church