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?
There are have been proclamations, rants, even celebrations by some that with the fall in church attendance across the mainline Christian denominations that the days of “going to church” are quickly coming to an end. By this I mean the days of packing the family up in the car and driving to a Sunday morning worship service, perhaps Sunday school and fellowship hall gatherings over burned coffee and cookies fresh out of a box. To this bit of Americana I would have to agree – the days of this picture are fading faster than a Polaroid on a bulletin board (note: given that Kodak is discontinuing the Polaroid line, this metaphor is ironically fading out as well).
Is this such a bad thing? Well, a number of post-church (aka ’emergent’) folks have been banging this drum for most of the late 1990’s and into the current century and have made quite a nice living on book deals and speaking gigs that have stirred the dismay and questioned the notion of “church” as a modernist construct to the point of people gathering around their books and conferences rather than as collectives of the Body of Christ. Those who attend many of these “we are different” and”embrace Otherness” and “not your father’s Christianity” and “meaning as Twitter feed” gatherings seem to keep coming and the folks who put them on are able to pay their mortgages so something is working, right? (btw – many so-called ’emergent’ folks will ‘hate on’ this alignment of “emergent” = “post-church”… but emergent folks hate on any label… kinda cute actually…)
That said, my worry goes deeper than the business models of the so-called ‘different without a Creed’ gatherings. My worry is that ultimately ‘the Church is Christ in the world’ (a phrase stated rather boldly by Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and as such has such a brutally fractured presence in the world that it resembles the torn apart corpse of the Levites concubine in Judges 19-22 (if you are interested in this troubling section of the Hebrew Bible that is never preached on and not found in any lectionary, my colleague Frank Spina provides a great lecture on iTunesU available here)
What is left of the presence of the church other than torn apart, sun-bleached and picked over chunks of flesh and bone fragments as Christians continue to passively participate in ever-shrinking circles of affinity that rarely engage a larger conversation that could mean the end of their perspective and the beginning of some new relationship?
This is the question that is driving my book project entitled “The Z factor” which is a meditation on the words of the Minor Prophets and in particular the book of Zechariah. It is something I have been musing over for a while and feel that it is time to kick start the project again. I will be posting thoughts on it over the coming weeks and look forward to your contributions and help in musing these questions over…