Two weeks ago I gathered with thirty men from nine different states on a 12-acre farm in east Charlotte. Out there the coyotes roam in packs, and so do Nascar drivers. The host, my friend Chad, calls the gathering MANTIME. A wiley Long Island Red woke us each morning at 5am--"Cockadoodle-something-something!" But in our bonfire time, and pow-wow sessions, something else was awakened.
Manliness & How To Talk To Men
First, I do not think that "manliness" looks like men sitting around a fire, swearing, smoking, spitting, drinking beer, and so on. These activities might be accurate generalizations of what some men like to do, but it does not make one a man. Keep reading for what I think is a great description for manliness.
MANTIME invited men into a safe place of rest and vulnerability. It was evident how much the men appreciated this thoughtful setting.
Second, most men I know appreciate straight talk. And most possess no aversion to the occasional wake-up call.
Someone once told me that millennial males don't react well to older men ranting in polemic rhetoric, telling them to "Man up!" To give advice, the older generation must learn how to talk to millennials.
Well, my youngest brother is a millennial. I have several millennial (and younger) friends, and I don't temper how I talk with them like they're a different breed of men. I simply talk to them from the heart.
As a Christian man, that means speaking truth with sincerity and a posture of love. You don't have to be a flame-thrower of a man to get your point across. But we should also never eschew telling it like it is, as brothers.
Most men I know appreciate straight talk tempered with firm, even blunt love.
They respond to honesty.
They respond to environments in which their experience and thoughts are respected and considered.
They enjoy the acknowledgement of their unique abilities.
This post is an attempt to talk straight, from a posture of love. I realize generational language barriers exist, but the contents of this post, I believe, transcend such barriers. Ok, moving on.
Our Isolation is Killing Us
Think about the men you know. What's going on in their lives? In yours? How much do you really know?
I shared the story of my family's adventure in Oxford, England over the past two years. It wasn't until I found myself alone atop a mountain looking over Lake Windermere that I realized how loud and isolated my life had become while living in Atlanta.
The digital age applies pressure on us every day. It's loud. It's cluttered. It promotes chaos rather than order in our thought and action. As a result we can easily become erratic in our behavior at work and at home. I know I can.
One of the new friends I met at MANTIME told me on the final day he felt like his brain was finally de-cobwebbed and pliable, but it was time to go. I could relate.
We don't know how haggard and worn and loud we are until we have a couple days to sit, shut up, and just be.
The brief time at Chad's farm allowed walls to be penetrated, even if only for a few hours. It's only when our walls crack, that we discover how isolated we've become.
We were not meant to live isolated. We were meant to tangle in each other's lives! To love, and be loved.
The Gospel provides a way for this kind of life; a life of wholeness rather than brokenness! Why are we so content to live in the squalor of our brokenness rather than embrace the wonder of Heaven's wholeness!
Yes sin causes brokenness. But Jesus came to make us whole! He has overcome the world! Why do we live as if the world has us by the throat?
Wholeness can feel like togetherness.
After breakfast one morning I walked to the trash can, threw in my plate, and choked on a sob that came from nowhere. It made me cough. What caused this?
Well, I'd just spent 45 minutes talking with five men about an intimate experience I had with God over Christmas. The conversation was alive! I could tell we all wanted more of whatever it was that this thing was. We all wanted more of one another, our testimonies, and more of God.
Wall cracked. Isolation penetrated. Life gleamed in the men's eyes. They didn't even know how vulnerable we all were in that moment. But no one cared.
We Must Rise From the Dead
But what happens when we don't work to intentionally crack the walls? Isolation breeds death. Place a glass jar over a candle and it suffocates.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of the importance of togetherness:
"Nothing is easier than to stimulate the glow of fellowship in a few days of life together ... 'Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (Ps. 133).'" (Life Together)
Here's an example of what happens when we isolate ourselves.
After the weekend I returned to south Charlotte and spoke with a friend about my time at the farm. After he said, "Bro, why didn't you invite me?!" And, after I got over my guilt, his countenance became grave.
He said hearing about our intimate gathering something struck him.
"Tim, we need times like that to connect, to go deep, to be vulnerable. Times like that will wake us up. So many of us are dying inside. Or worse. We're already dead!"
He described how, over the last six to eight months, married women told him they were just staying married for the kids. They lamented how their husbands didn't love them or listen to them in the way they most needed. So, they've given up hope for a fulfilling marriage.
What struck me was that these women are so desperate for someone to listen to them that they will confide in other men. This reality is close to home for many of us.
Isolation can estrange us from those we love the most. It's a quiet, gradual suffocating.
A world of isolation breeds counterfeit people. When we remove ourselves from the accountability and community of one another, vice overtakes virtue. We can too easily believe the false ideology of the mob (Kierkegaard says the mob is "untruth"), rather than the life-giving truth of God.
Why are more and more men not listening to their wives? Not loving them uniquely? Perhaps it is because the man has come to identify himself solely through his success and accomplishments.
Or perhaps he has bought into the counterfeit man who must be a brute. Or perhaps he is confused by what he consumes via media and what he picks up at church?
Consider these words from James Freeman Clark regarding counterfeit manliness:
Instead of strength of will, it is only willful; in place of courage, it has audacity.
True manliness does what it believes right; false manliness, does what it chooses to do.
Freedom, to one, means following his own convictions of truth; to the other it means thinking as he pleases, and doing as he likes. The one is reverent, the other rude; one is courteous, the other overbearing ; one is brave, the other foolhardy; one is modest, the other self-asserting.
False manliness is cynical, contemptuous, and tyrannical to inferiors. The true man has respect for all men, is tender to the sufferer, is modest and kind.
The good type uses its strength to maintain good customs, to improve the social condition, to defend order. The other imagines it to be manly to defy law, to be independent of the opinions of the wise, to sneer at moral obligation, to consider itself superior to the established principles of mankind. ...
All boys wish to be manly; but they often try to become so by copying the vices of men rather than their virtues.
They see men drinking, smoking, swearing; so these poor little fellows sedulously imitate such bad habits, thinking they are making themselves more like men.
They mistake rudeness for strength, disrespect to parents for independence.
The counterfeit man is born daily because our culture raises up the counterfeit. We applaud vice. We demonize virtue because it is too narrow and prejudiced. We do so because we live as three hundred and sixty million islands isolated in an ocean of despair.
Bonhoeffer says, "The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.
"Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person."
Men, (and women) it is time to rise from the deadness of isolation. To be aware of our counterfeit tendencies. To confess them to one another. To live, together.
Embrace Your Aliveness
The river is life itself. It flows all the way to the Dead Sea, and ignites it with pure life. It resurrects it! The Dead Sea, touched by the heavenly river turns into The Living Sea.
"Where the river flows everything will live." (Ez. 47:9)
Where has our life gone?
We are not children of the dead.
We are children of God. The Giver of Life.
C.S. Lewis says too often we're content to sit in the mud when a holiday at the ocean is offered to us.
Do we know how to be alive?
But, Tim, "aliveness" is abstract. How do I become alive in my, work, family, my marriage? How do I become alive, in my life?
A similar question was posed to me after my MANTIME talk. There's no easy answer here. At some point you and I must decide to embrace our aliveness and identify the things that suck us dry and derail our passions for our wives and families, and isolate us from the living waters of God.
I used the example of working out. This year, I wanted to get strong again. So I committed to a workout program that demands I show up everyday. It killed me the first two weeks. But now, my girls want to touch my arms and love watching me scream in pain on the garage floor, as I grin ear to ear lifting weights.
After fourteen weeks, I'm strong again. But it took that first step.
Living means not pursuing things of death. And that is a daily thing. It's a first step, then another.
Here are my two cents.
Try limiting your phone time. Throw it in a drawer (or a blender!) on the weekends. Put it in your bag when you walk in the door after work.
Take a monastic leave from television for a year. Don't worry, you won't shrivel up and die. On the contrary, you may discover you have trees in your front yard, a barn owl, and several Pileated woodpeckers, or that your neighbors love to hangout at their chiminea at night and chat.
Stop running around in your car for things you don't need, burning time you're stealing from your children and wife. No, in fact, you don't need to run to Costco, again.
Give your wife every Saturday morning off for the rest of her life. And when she's gone, clean the house, do the dishes, organize the garage, and have tickle fights with your pixies (or whatever you call you children).
Say no, to just about everything that you don't need to do.
When you're on date night, leave the phone in the car. Let her take her phone to check on the kids. And if you can't hack that, don't check the social when she's in the bathroom. Just sit there, and ... think, sing, hum a tune.
Take your kids out of pre-teen sports programs (What!? Did I just go there?) that exist solely for the purpose of robbing you blind.
Instead, build something with your kids, kick the ball in the yard with them. Go camping. Sit in a hammock with them, without your expletive PHONE!
Pray with you wife, every day. Doing this is like tapping into the energy of a billion suns. It will infuse your marriage with a trust you've never experienced, a sense of togetherness you've longed for since your honeymoon, and will ignite your hearts towards one another.
Sometimes, this is hard for me to do. Because I'm selfish and impatient. I have to get to work (which is in the next room). I have things to write, and clients to please.
Would you please stop bothering me?
Hold on. What am I saying?
You mean if I pray with you, there's infinite relational blessing awaiting? Ah, I'm sorry, babe. Yes, I will pray. I will not isolate myself from you. Rather, I will pour into you.
Ease into it. Whisper it into her ear before you get out of bed. This is real pillow-talk.
Grab her waist while she's plunging the French Press, ease in behind her, and whisper a quickie. "Bless her, Lord. Bless the pixies (or whatever you call your children)," and go work.
A strange thing happens when you, as a man, begin to embrace the life God intends for you. It communicates care to those who depend on you. It endears them to you.
Brothers, let's wake up. Rise up. Liven up. Let's gather, share, sob, sing. Let's live life, together.
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.