Boys To Men!
I heard a report that a young woman I know was working in a store that was robbed. Evidently a man, with his friends, stuck a gun in her face and cleaned out the cash drawer. Thankfully she was not hurt. Of course that report is nothing compared to the story of what happened in Colorado in the mass shooting at a movie theater. These stories have prompted my thinking about such things as manliness, honor, humiliation and shame. In our anger, frustration, and despair over such continuing stories we may forget some of the dynamics going on in our society that I think lead to more and more of these kind of events. I know there are lots of factors going on in the drama of American violence, whether it be mass shootings, racial shootings, inner city violence, or domestic violence. Some are debating America’s paranoid and schizophrenic view of guns; whether to be paranoid of them or paranoid someone is going to take them away. Some ought to be debating our failure to identify those mentally ill who are dangerous and institutionalize them, before they stop taking their meds and go buy weapons and use them. I want to talk about something a little more basic, maybe not as dramatic but in the long run fundamental to the health of our society. I want to talk about making boys into men. I want to talk about taking the feelings of impotence out of their character. I remember when I was a little boy how much I loved cowboy and war movies. I did think that someday I wanted to have a “gun” and maybe get to shoot bad guys. I did understand very early on that there were good guys and bad guys. I thought learning to shoot might help make me a man. I remember when I was a little older how much I enjoyed heroes in movies who used karate to beat up their enemies. I thought if I learned karate I could beat up people too, and that would help make me a man. I imagined that someday I would have to go to the local police station and register my hands as lethal weapons. (OK, I never achieved that). As a young boy without a father I didn’t know a lot about honor, except what I was learning on television and at the movies. Some of those old heroes weren’t too bad about that kind of thing. I knew what it meant to feel humiliated, embarrassed sometimes about being a white boy in a black neighborhood, or being overweight. I wasn’t very good at sports, but I was learning to fight, both boys and girls. I didn’t always win but I learned how to get even with someone who bloodied my nose. I jumped on top of them and held them down while I bled all over them. It was sort of a unique technique. In time I became a Boy Scout, and they taught me to shoot a rifle and skin an animal. They taught me gun safety and that weapons weren’t toys and being a man meant learning how to use it correctly, and never to harm people. I took karate, and learned my instructors never used it to hurt anyone, except in self defense. I became a Christian and learned that what other people called me didn’t define me because now I saw myself as a child of God. I began to learn the difference between honor, humiliation, and shame. I learned some of these things because men who were not my father took the time to mentor me. I learned that I could be humiliated but it didn’t mean I needed to fee ashamed. I could try something and I might fail, and I might feel humiliated, but I suffered no shame in trying or being out performed by someone else. I used to think that if you attacked me I must fight back because to back down would be shameful, so I was ready to fight. Then I learned that it was more honorable to take a punch, even to be publicly humiliated for the sake of Jesus than to beat up someone else. This was hard, but sorting out the difference between humiliation and shame was very helpful to me. Now of course I have done things I am ashamed of, but they are in the category of my own moral struggles, not in the competition between insecure men. We live in a generation of feminism and fatherlessness. The rate of fatherlessness I believe actually exponentially reduces the number of men who can mentor boys who are not their own. Men are failing at earning a living, they are failing in comparisons with women, and they are failing in one of their most important responsibilities and that is to stay faithful to their woman and their begotten children. Men often feel they have little self worth as they compare themselves with others, they feel humiliated and in their reaction to that they lose their honor. In the shooting in Colorado there were heroes who died covering their loved ones, both men and women. They were the ones with honor, but so often we have seen gutless, need for fame or infamy, revenge filled, proving their worth or superiority but actually worthless individuals who use lethal power to kill others better than themselves. I learned to shoot, skin an animal, drive a car, ride a motorcycle, fly a plane. I ran a marathon or so, climbed over a glacier to scale a peak. I joined the Army and went to war, more than once. I lift weights. I know how to love a woman so that she smiles when she sees me come back after a while. No matter that I have enjoyed learning and doing those things my manliness is found in deeper places. It is found in living for something greater than myself, and in being willing to die for it. My honor is not going into a rage and seeking revenge when I am cut off in traffic, on purpose or inadvertently. My honor is in allowing a woman to lose her temper, yell at me, and have an emotional melt down but not beat her up or abandon her because of it. My honor is to admit it when I mess up, pay a bill I owe but can’t afford to pay, be loyal and help my friends in their hard times, defend those who are weaker than myself or their adversaries, stand up for truth and justice when it would be easier to keep my mouth shut, and to forgive my enemies. I have struggled with my self worth when I didn’t have much money, but I have learned that honor is more important than money. Better to be poor than a liar the book of Proverbs says, but many have lost that kind of honor in the materialistic competition we have with each other in our society. Boys need to learn honor early, so they will defend the weak and not hurt others to prove that they are not. Real men have learned restraint is as important as action. Men need to learn their value must come first from the love of God and the innate dignity that he gives them and that neither weakness, poverty, nor opposition and setbacks define them. Boys need to value their honor, so they will stay at the books, or stay at the shovel, and do what it takes to make their own way and provide for others. Boys need men to help them learn that, and women too who will build them up and not tear them down.