Ooooh growin' up...

One of the realities I have experienced in this crazy business of growin' up is something Sam Keene once said: if a man hasn't wrestled with his demons - and spent time learning from the ashes of his life by the time he hits 50 - he's likely to end up a bitter old fool. If, however, you let the kicks and the shit teach you something, then there is the chance a little wisdom and generosity might slip in-between the cracks... and everyone is the better for it.

Think of Springsteen singing this rock and roll rebel theme song as an older guy...

When I first saw Springsteen, I was facing my first (or several) nasty midlife wrestling matches with my shadow... and man did he unlock something inside me that I had tried to keep bottled up for too long. I hardly realized that I was sobbing and dancing and... praying while the E Street Band pumped out "Trapped" in Joe Louis Auditorium in Detroit, MI. There was just something about his combination of music, spirituality, politics, heart, soul, humor and sexuality that spoke to me. As the Jungians among us might say: I saw a lot of what I had locked away projected on that rockabilly dude.

I'm glad I saw it: I'm glad I saw an adult man wrestle with his shadow - sometimes in public - and win some and lose others but get back up into the fight for integrity and learn to change and go deeper. 21st century men need heroes to help us learn how to be tender warriors - people who can use strength and rage to protect rather than wound - or as my Gaelic relatives used to say: a warrior has to learn how to dance before picking up a sword.

Richard Rohr's new book is about this exact idea: From Wild Man to Wise Man. He writes:
In our Western culture and even in our religious tradition we have few guides to lead us deeply into the full male journey and almost no mentors who have been there themselves and come back to guide us through We are longing for believable mentors on every stage of the male journey... one of my hopes is that some men might come to understand that their wildness can also be a way into wisdom.

The same truth was part of a recent community conversation with our Chief of Police along with some drug rehab counselors and the leader of Pittsfield's hunger center. And the core of the conversation was that there is a lot fear out there mixed with some ugly and mean-spirited understandings of what it means to be a man. This is an important time to be doing ministry - and I can't think of more important work than being with young boys and teens in an exploration of how we might be wild and wise together.

Springsteen's model in "Light of Day" says it better than most... as he blends humor, energy, humility, awe, power, sensuality together in his "ministry of rock and roll!" He's got Johnny Cash, James Brown, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Ray Vaughn, Van Morrison and the Young Rascals all wrapped-up in this shtick - and God does he deliver!

Back in Cleveland - which seems like about a hundred years ago - this middle class white boy found himself doing gang work with Puerto Rican kids starving for healthy men to love and guide them. At one point there were 30 young adolescents hanging with us instead of the gangs - even coming to church! Oooooh growin' up! Do I sense a reprise in the air here in this little Berkshire town?


Black Pete said…
To slightly paraphrase U2, concerning being a man: "we still haven't found what we're looking for."

I liked a lot of what you said, here, RJ.

I liked seeing the word "gentle" paired for the first time in my reading with the Bly-encrusted word "warrior"--after all these centuries, I've asked myself, is "warrior" still the best definition we can come up with on what it means to be a man? Your phrase helps redeem this.

I used to offer a prayer of thanks that I am a father only of daughters--that i did not have a son who would have to contend with the aggressive expectations of society in defining himself. That said, of course, my daughter has her own challenges, but somehow, it is easier to be a father to her than it would be to a son.

Humanity is a work in progress, and being a man is very much a work in progress. You've nudged us a centimetre along, my man.
RJ said…
Thanks for your kind words. I had that very same prayer, Peter, before my two girls were born. I have a few more clues now and am working on finding a way to bring a few other men together to be with the boys in our congregation. That, too, is still a work in progress... more as it emerges. In the mean time, glad we connected on this. Blessings.
Black Pete said…
Ooops, I meant "tender". Even better!
RJ said…
Gentle has much going for it, too.

Popular Posts