In a recent article by Tom Matlack in the Huffington Post entitled “Tiger Woods and the State of Modern Manhood”, Matlack zeros in on this latest account of fallen sports icons as an accounting for what he sees as the demise of manhood in America.  As he surmises in the article:

Guys we are at a crossroads. You can go back into the cave if you want to but it isn’t going to do you, or your family, any good. The guys I know, from investment bankers to Marines, are asking themselves how they can possibly be good fathers, sons, husbands, and workers at the same time. In a way its what women have struggled with for decades but us guys are just facing into as the challenge of a “he-cession” at work and increased expectations at home have us reeling.

Does Matlack have a point worth considering?  Is he just a whiner who needs to ‘man up’, get to work, and stop watching Dr. Phil?  As the author spins his story of overindulgence in the consumer ideals of the so-called American dream that lead to his marriage falling apart and his identity collapsing around him, you do feel a level of sorrow and wonder what is indeed happening to our culture as it concerns men.  The question interests me as well as a teacher who works with young adults in their college years – what developmental theorist Erik Erickson calls the “moratorium from adulthood” and a period of life Cat Stevens mused as being “on the road to find out.”  I work alongside young men in their early 20s who continue to choose essentially two paths:

(1) entwine themselves with charismatic 21st century Robert Bly/Iron John/’Wild at Heart’ types who spin tales of manhood as a thing forged in the Black Forest amidst the terror of hordes of Orcs, framed in the flickering light of epic battles of yore, and promise mentorship in exchange of unswerving allegiance.  In short, many of the neo-Calvinist church plants catering to middle class America who see manhood as certainty of strength through force of will rather than faith, hope and love and as the mark  and virtue of a true man fall into this camp.

(2) The disenfranchised/misunderstood/maligned socially aware social justice artist who sees the role of manhood framed as the critic par excellence.   These young men fall into the hippie cum grunge cum slacker cum ‘have-hoodie-and-iPod-will-travel’ aesthetic that dance on the edge of things often journaling in the coffee shop while the world burns around them.  This is the underachiever who is the overly idealistic and tells all who listen what is wrong and how things should be yet won’t step out to change things beyond the sphere of their shaker snow globe of well-meaning egalitarianism.

Is there another model?  Is there some option beyond these polar extremes?

Over the 4th of July weekend, our family visited Nash’s Organic Farm in Sequim, Washington.  It was a beautiful day to be out and walking around on the farm, picking strawberries, watching the progress of the herbs and root vegetables, and smelling the flowers that they plant to attract ‘beneficial’ bugs that will naturally keep down the aphid population.

One of the things that farms such as Nash’s are doing is getting people involved in the locavore movement: encouraging people to eat foods that are grown locally and thereby supporting a localized economy and community building.  Through the Farm Share program, people buy ‘shares’ in the farm and receive regular boxes of vegetables and fruits from the farm throughout the summer and into the fall.  We were there this weekend for a Share member ‘thank you’ program – bringing together people who had ‘shares’ to have lunch made from the vegetables made on the farm, tour the farm to see what’s ‘coming up’ in the rows, and spend time with the farmers.

I must admit, as a city boy, taking time to see the food I am eating made and cared for by people who genuinally care for the soil, love their trade and are inspired to farm as a means of building community was truly moving.  This is what essayist and poet Wendell Berry speaks of as the challenge to city people to learn to ‘enjoy eating’ once again for the sake of the earth. All these people gathering together around rows of lettuce and tomatoes, looking in wonder at the slow, steady process of the earth as it formed and fused these random elements of dirt, water, air and time into food that is not only bursting with nutrients that keep us alive, but simply beautiful beyond words to behold.

As we ate our lunches that only hours earlier had been growing from the ground beneath our feet and listened to a local blues guitarist playing under a tree in the shade by the creek, our three girls ran up and down the strawberry rows  filled with the joy and wonder of discovery as they found fresh strawberries hidden under leaves which they quickly popped into their mouths like candy.

There were small glimpes of the Kingdom of God in this moment – the gentle simplicity of being close to the earth, close with my family, close with other people in ways not mediated by technology or speed or power.  There was only grace and gift and presense – something of the moving of the planets and the stillness of silence collapsed into one strawberry picked by a four year old under a gracious noonday sun.  The fact that this all took place on the Sabbath was lost on me – or rather, I was simply lost in what Sabbath actually was for the first time in such a long time that I lost time in the moment.

Wendell Berry cites the poet William Carlos Williams in “What are People For?” with these challenging words:

there is nothing to eat,
seek it where you will,
but the body of the Lord.
The blessed plants
and the sea, yield it
to the imagination
intact.

I am thankful to have yielded my imagination yesterday to the farm… and it has made all the difference.