Archive for the ‘Men’s Movements’ Category

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Manning up with Casting Crowns

28 March 2014

Casting Crowns arrived on the music scene in 1999. By a long but steady ascent, they have become one of the few Evangelical bands to move between Christian and secular radio, touting positive messages for general audiences. As such, their lyrics hold special insight into values popular among conservative American believers. Among the consolidation of virtues Casting Crowns is responsible for is a set of gender expectations for men. In particular, their code turns on concepts of moral integrity, inner piety, protection of women and children, and evangelism.

In 2011 Casting Crowns released the single “Courageous,” which accompanied the film by the same name. With a story about a police officer in the background, the song laments the loss of traditional manliness, when men “were warriors on the front lines, standing unafraid.” Now, men are “watchers on the sidelines while our families slip away.” The golden days of patriarchy have waned into the dark days of men without backbone and purpose. The refrain that Christian men are “taking back the fight” does not refer to a program to subject women. Rather, the fight is directed at the heart, turning to a life of prayer. This battle to regain the authoritative self starts with the regaining of the authentic self, “on our knees with lifted hands.” Those who “reignite the passion,” the song goes on to say, “become warriors.” Accordingly, the battle for one’s place in the family has been internalized to take place on the war-field of the heart, in which lethargy and cowardice are put to death via prayer. The song ends with the promise, “In the war of the mind I will make my stand.”

Casting Crown’s inner masculinity continues to the be the basis for external masculine honor in 2014’s “Heroes.” The woman of the song expresses her valor in financial ways, supporting her two children (notably after her breadwinning husband abandons her). The high school boy in the second verse “walks against the flow” in fairly nebulous moral ways, not following “the hopeless road” but “willing to stand alone.” His manhood comes through principally in a moralistic separation from the world (though this is somehow equated with seeing the school as “his mission field”). Again, the battle is fought in internal terms, battling for moral integrity through self-discipline and prayer.

Through both songs one hears the moralistic theme of Promise Keepers set in the militaristic language of John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. Thus lead vocalist Mark Hall confesses his penchant for uber-manly movies like Braveheart, saying, “I think that’s my spirit in me longing to be the warrior that God created me to be.” Yet his battle-loving language is simply the key through which he sings of a longing to return to traditional values beginning with the conquest of self. Notably, this sort of Evangelicalism is still psychological and inward-facing while much of the rest of Christianity is turning toward the social sciences and political action.

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The Ultimate Men’s Summit, June 10-19

6 June 2011

Later this month we’ll witness the most ambitious attempt so far to recapture the glory years of the mythopoetic men’s movement.  The Ultimate Men’s Summit, happening online from the 10th to the 19th, will showcase over 75 presenters and field questions via telecom.  The line-up is a veritable who’s who in men’s work: Sam Keen, Warren Farrell, Bert Hoff, Bill Kauth, Herb Goldberg and (“Leader of the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement”) Robert Bly.   I encourage you to sign up for the conference HERE.  Registration is free.

I’m looking forward to the event, though the limitations are quite apparent in my mind.  The cast is dominated by psychologists and self-help gurus.  While a couple of men’s rights people should shake things up, the therapeutic feel of the conference won’t invite too many critical questions.  The conference is being pulled together by Shift Network, an organization devoted to an “evolution of consciousness” that includes “open exchange,” “restorative cycles,” and “global spiritual pluralism.”  Therefore I can all but assure attendees that the New Age ethic of the organizers will make room for a wide array of perspectives, sexualities and social groups, though they will leave prowling on the perimeter the usual suspects: liberal feminists, conservative pundits and orthodox Christians.

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What Ever Happened to Bill McCartney?

19 January 2011

Remember Bill McCartney?  The celebrated football coach of the University of Colorado and founder of Promise Keepers was everywhere in the 1990s, the heyday of the men’s movement.  “Coach” McCartney, loved or hated, was a force within modern Evangelical Christianity.  Even after the beginning of the death spiral of Promise Keepers began in the late 90s, he hung on the organization, and left only in 2003.  Over the next five years he founded The Road to Jerusalem, a dispensationalist parachurch organization getting American churches to support messianic Jews in Israel in order to hasten the second coming of Christ.  Then, in 2008, he returned to Promise Keepers as chairman of the board, though no real signs of life have come from the organization.

Just last November, at age 70, Coach Mac made it known that he was interested in heading the University of Colorado’s fledgling football program again.  That made a stir, including among some vocal college employees, who protested the hire of a “homophobic” and “sexist,” referring to several comments McCartney made over the years as an outspoken Evangelical.  The university ended up hiring Jon Embree.

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TMNT: King, Warrior, Magician Lover

18 March 2010

Revelation!  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the mythopoetic king, warrior, magician, lover! 

Consider this summary from (today’s version of) Wikipedia:

Leonardo — The courageous leader and devoted student of martial arts, Leonardo wears a blue mask and wields two katana. He is the eldest of the four and the most skilled fighter of the turtles. “Leo” was named after the Italian polymath, scientist, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, Leonardo Da Vinci.

Raphael — The team’s bad boy, Raphael wears a red mask and wields a pair of sai. He has an aggressive nature and seldom hesitates to throw the first punch. He is an intense fighter. His personality can be alternately fierce and sarcastic, and often times delivers deadpan humor. Still, he is intensely loyal to his brothers and sensei. He is named after the Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance, Raphael Sanzio.

Donatello — The brilliant scientist, inventor, engineer, and technological genius, Donatello wears a purple mask and wields the bō staff. “Don” is perhaps the least violent Turtle, preferring to use his intellect to solve conflicts. He is named after the sculptor Donatello.

Michelangelo — Easy-going free-spirited, Michelangelo wears an orange mask and wields nunchaku. “Mikey” provides much of the comic relief. While he loves to relax, party, and eat pizza; this Turtle also has an adventurous and creative side. He is the youngest of the four. He is named after Michelangelo Buonarroti.

I mean, c’mon.  Leader, fighter, genius, comedian?  Four colors?  These are the masculine archetypes to a tee.  I should receive an honorary doctorate for this insight alone.

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The Impossibility of the Nice Christian Guy

16 July 2009

catapult logoAre you wild – or whipped – at heart?  Are you a Christian guy who is thinking about repenting of his niceness?  You’ll want to see my article published this month in Catapult Magazine. 

http://www.catapultmagazine.com/men-manly-men/feature/the-impossibility-of-the-nice-christian

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National Conference for Campus-Based Men’s Gender Equality

18 March 2009

The first National Conference for Campus-Based Men’s Gender Equality and Anti-violence Groups happens this November 6-7, 2009 at St. John’s University (MN). Various profeminist, egalitarian groups have been meeting at the Men and Masculinities Conference for decades, but this conference marks a fresh attempt to show a unified front of these sub-movements. Key scholars, including the likes of Michael Kaufman, Harry Brod, Jackson Katz and Michael Kimmel are helping to pull together this effort. The conference abstract:

Across the country, groups of male students are making their voices heard! More and more men are finding the courage to say “no” to ideas of manhood and relations between the sexes that aren’t good for women and aren’t good for men as well. They’re speaking out against date rape and violence against women. They support gender equality. Some work through residence life or student activities offices, others through women’s centers and counseling programs. Some are campus branches of national organizations like MVP, White Ribbon, Men Can Stop Rape, 1 in 4, or V-Men. These men face common problems: How to have an impact? How to find positive ways to get their message to other campus men? How to deal with backlash, to work in partnership with women’s groups, to recruit and sustain their groups? For the first time, campus-based pro-feminist men’s groups from across the country are meeting together. To share resources, trade their best ideas, discuss strategies, and simply find out what’s happening on other campuses.

More information can be found at www.michaelkaufman.com/campusmensconference.  They have also issued a call for papers.

This conference strikes me as having some potential to expand the profeminist men’s movement, particularly in its attempt to express positive masculine identifiers.   The movement has had a difficult time rallying too much support in the past, in my opinion, because it has defined masculinity in so many negative terms: against sexism, against rape, against discrimination, against homophobia, etc.  Fighting for equality has been their theme, of course – but how is this a gendered identity?  How do men struggle, how are men struggling for equality in a different way than women?  Perhaps some of the men will be able to engage the nature-arguments and yet say, “Our masculinity is to fight a distinct war within the baser, inherent tendencies among men.”  Perhaps at this conference some truly brave men will be able to say, “Look, guys, we can’t avoid developing some kind of masculinity, even a masculinity vis-a-vis women, so let’s start working towards some healthy concepts of equality-in-distinction.”  Perhaps.

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Rumpelstilskin, as Interpretated by a ManKind Project I-Group

1 February 2009

For those of you who don’t know, I am part of a ManKind Project (MKP) I-Group, which seeks to pursue healthy manhood in a small group format.  Besides some more modern therapeutic techniques, the I-Group utilizes “non-linear” methods like ritual, poetry and working out emotions through kinetic activities. 

Last month I brought to the group a classic fairy tale which, to no surprise, none of them had heard in years: rumpelRumpelstilskin.  I used the later version from Grimms’ compilation, one you can read here if you’re also having a hard time recalling the story.  I had rediscovered the story in a German textbook (the story was originally named Rumpelstilzchen) and was struck by its multifaceted presentation of important life themes.  Although (or maybe because) the story features a girl as the protagonist of the story, I wanted to see how a men’s group would respond to it. 

After telling the story with as much flair as I could muster, I launched a basic question: “With whom did you resonate most?”  Most of the men immediately said, “The girl.”  “Why?,” I asked.  “Because she was exploited again and again, and she did what she had to.” 

But upon my pushing for more details it seemed that, while they liked the story and felt it to be somehow important, they couldn’t put a finger on why they resonated with the girl, or anyone in the story for that matter.  We spent a chunk of time picking apart the significance of each character.  All of them are men, and most of them seem like evil bastards.  But did they have to be interpreted that way?

My own conclusion, one I had come to earlier, was that this story had pretty thick social meanings attached to it.  I suggested to the men that any girl who heard the story would be learning about what it is like to be a woman in the world of men.  Though people would expect her to have magical powers (even turning straw into gold), she would have to hope for resources beyond her, powers to deceive, manipulate and, through them, to survive in an androcentric world.  Maybe it helped us peer into the world of women and the demands we as men make upon them.

mentalkThis seemed to make sense to the men, but it didn’t make sense of it for a men’s group.  Where was the value in it for us?

Still, I stayed with this tack.  I wondered aloud if there might be a way to understand the story as an address to (or at) homosexuals.  Could it be that both girls and boys alike in old Germany were being warned about strangers, in particular “strange little men” who had their own magic at work, but were, at best, strange, at worst, conniving paedophiles?  The I-Group could agree to this hypothesis, at least cognitively.  Or, I mused on, we could queer the story by telling it a little differently, that this strange manling, Rumpelstilskin, was trying to deliver the girl-queen’s son from the world of oppressive men; that the reason he wanted to take the boy away in order to initiate him into a different kind of manhood, one not based on the patriarchal tyrrany exhibited by the girl’s father and king. 

This time no response from the I-Group. 

The problem, I realize now, was not that these hypotheses were uninteresting to them.  Nor were they unsavory (I would describe most of them as more consistently to the political left).   The problem was that my interpretations were primarily sociological, not psychological.  In a group dedicated to personal health (of five heterosexual men), social ramifications played second fiddle to personal application. 

With the evening coming to a close, one of the older members of the group began a very productive line of thought along Jungian lines.  He suggested that, perhaps, the bizarre character of Rumpelstilzkin could be interpreted as  one’s “shadow,” that part of us which we suppress but comes out anyway as a kind of dangerous but creative alter-ego.  That shadow must be honored in order to deal with crises in life.  One must deal with the devil, so to speak, in order to meet the demands of the “king” (or father), that archetype which would direct us in life directions.  The king’s men who go out through the kingdom to figure out Rumpelstilskin’s name are expressions of the “warrior,” the get-it-done part of the soul (or, externalizing a bit, maybe the king’s men can be our warrior brothers in ManKind Project).  And, lest the shadow dominate our lives too much, at some point the shadow must be “named,” exposed for what it is in the limits of its power. 

Now, you’ve got to admit, this is a pretty dang good interpretation.  Thanks to the last minute personalizing hermeneutic, everybody felt edified by the activity, myself included.

Still, I feel a little uneasy about how the personal so often operates independently of the political.  Can we hear the story of Rumpelstilskin and find in it something that speaks to us and addresses the situation of others? 

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Next session we’re hoping to do some mask-making.  Yes, I know you think that’s weird.  If you find wearing a tie and watching ESPN makes you a whole man, more power to you.  For some of us there are shadows to name – and who’s to say you don’t have one?