“It is hard to put your finger on, but guys are in trouble…â€*

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Increasingly commentators are talking of the “feminization” of the church. I’m wondering what that means; what does the church’s “feminization” look, sound and feel like? I’m wondering too about the male narratives, images, myths, archetypes and symbols.

I’m reflecting on the insights provided through an engagement with the ways in which males are portrayed in movies such as Jar Head, Once Were Warriors, American Beauty, Fight Club, Whale Rider, Elephant and the likes. Is Garrison Keillor right? “It is hard to put your finger on, but guys are in trouble. Guys are gloomy.” What are the influences that have brought us to a place in which we are “in trouble”?

These questions are some of those I’ve been sitting with as part of my preparation for leading a workshop on “male spirituality”; an introduction to so-called male spirituality and its implications for spiritual directors and spiritual directors.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own story and about what it means for me to be male. I’ve been trying to imagine what the possible obstacles and opportunities are to 21st century Christianity providing meaningful nourishment and resources for a male journey in life. Are Promise Keepers and the like, our only option? Theologically I’m also wondering what it means for males and females to image God, and the implications of that “imaging” for a male spirituality, for helping males journey toward wholeness.

I’m provoked too by the possibility of there being truth and helpful insight in statements like this one from Andrew Harvey:

“…Gays have a unique function in registering the cruelty and craziness of patriarchy and working to transcend it…We’ve had a false masculine presented to us, and ideal of control and domination that is really a frozen hysteria, a condensation of fear and panic. It has nothing to do with the real masculine. In fact, gay men are closer to the real masculine than the so-called masculine ones are. Gay men in the way that they interpret and live masculinity might be models for straight men, models for a deepening of the heart, a more tender and playful humour, a greater acceptance and tolerance of diversity…”

Incidentally, author / teacher David Tacey, from Australia, says something very similar at the conclusion of his book: Remaking Men: Jung, Spirituality and Social Change.

In 1992 Philip Culbertson helpfully listed twelve stumbling blocks that he believes inhibit the development of a healthy masculine spirituality within the Christian tradition. Despite many of the issues arising from the late 1980’s the list does in some measure begin to get at the “false masculine” and thus the obstacles and opportunities we face as males in becoming more fully human, alive, and free:

I’d be interested in how accurate this list feels to you 15-years after its publication? What would you want to challenge, change, delete or add…? In what different directions might you want to take the issues? Is male spirituality, if such a thing exists, even relevant?

1. The identification in the tradition of God as Father. 2. The fear of the feminine. 3. The domination by tradition-centered males of the development of almost all literature in theology and spiritual direction. 4. The suppression by males of much of the broad range of human emotions. 5. The valuing of self-sufficiency, making it hard to pray for help or to seek healing in the face of powerlessness. 6. The misunderstanding of the value and process of reciprocal relationships, which inhibits our sense of self in God’s eyes and devalues our interdependence with creation and with the rest of humanity. 7. The insistence that to do something is categorically manlier than to be something, or simply to be. 8. The problem men have knowing who they are when they are not in charge. 9. The heritage of body-soul dualism and the resultant dismissal of the body and human sexuality. 10. The need to control structurelessness by putting everything in a hierarchical order; the fear of both chaos and spontaneity. 11. The assumption that incompleteness [and mystery]… is a sign of failure. 12. The preference for linearity over circularity…

Paul Fromont