Wild… er… Responsible at Heart

5 September 2008

When John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart came out in 2001, Evangelical men latched on to the existentialist bad-boy path to Christian manhood.  According to the book, the problem was that men in the churches had become sissified by a sentimental, moralistic, inauthentic environment.  The solution could be found in pursuing the “wild” road of authentic, manly living.  Eldredge’s indebtedness to the mythopoetic men’s movement shows through, albeit in a superficial way: William Wallace and Luke Skywalker replace the ancient fairy tales, Jesus Christ replaces the “I” to some extent.  Wild at Heart struck that perfect marketability for Evangelical men: conservative family values + shame-healing + anti-Victorian backlash + self help group therapy + badass role models. 

Seven years later, men’s ministries are holding Wild at Heart retreats, the latest cropping up in Peoria, IL.  Such men eagerly report that they go on such weekends to buck the system, to get fierce, to prove to themselves that they can be, well, “wild.”  It’s interesting, then, that the primary way these men demonstrate their wildness is by (to quote them) “learning to communicate.”  They admit their failing as husbands and fathers.  They confess their well-hidden wimpiness.  They acquire new skills to speak honestly with God, themselves, and their loved ones.  

Nomenclature aside, let me applaud this wildness.  Truth be told, most men struggle with fear their whole lives, often fears of emotional vulnerability.  Moreover, it seems that in this age young American men struggle with a fear of responsibility (a.k.a. permanent adolescence syndrome).  Christian men are no exception: they don’t cultivate inner strength, they don’t take risks, and so in self-defense insulate themselves from any kind of shame or public accountability.   Let us grant that it takes courage – maybe not the courage of a broadsworded Scot, but courage nonetheless – to put oneself on the line and say, “Yes, I’ve run away from my God-given responsibilities.” 

Masculinities trade in fecund contradictions.  Evangelical men, for this reason and that, spend time being irresponsible to the world around them, if only for a Saturday, in order to recapture the strength to dive back into their world of responsibilities and responsiveness. 

[Keep an eye out for future posts on John Eldredge.]


One comment

  1. I have nothing intelligent to say on this issue, but I have to mention this. One of my favorite Designing Women episodes is when a flat tire strands the women at a “wild man” weekend, where they are constantly rebuked for interrupting the male rituals of dressing up in primitive costume, passing the “truth stick” and sharing wounds from the past. Many giggles at the expense of the “wild” men. But it resolves with the founder of this version of wild man weekends explaining his true (admirable) intentions and saying “real men aren’t afraid of real women.”

    Not that this adds anything to your reflections. Just thought I’d share.

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