Learning and maturing in the second half of the journey...

In his book about male spirituality and initiation, Adam's Return: The Five Promises of Male Inititation, he suggests that in the first half of life men learn about challenging limits and succeeding.  If a young male isn't taught humility and service by wise mentors - if he isn't initiated into preserving the well-being of his tribe by learning that he is mortal - the first half of life is likely to be filled with unfocused wild energy that will wound others.

+ Call it the unbridled puer aeternus of Jungian archetypes, the smart-ass hipster in the back of the class, George Carlin's "class clown" or the local gang banger, we not only know what unfocused male energy looks like but we are suffering from it in a host of ways.

+ From sexual abuse and random acts of street violence to the perpetual adolescence of so many contemporary men - to say nothing of the epidemic of sweet, soft men with no fire in their bellies who believe that the only loving alternative to the anger and shame that surrounds them is to become "yogurt makers" - the evidence is clear:  men no longer are being trained to be tender warriors.  As the ancient Celts used to say, "a warrior must learn to dance before using the sword." 

Rohr clearly understands that most men have matured into what Robert Bly calls "a sibling society" where there is no leader, no standard by which to measure the self and no clear paths of initiation into serving the common good.  Instead, there is shame, scandal and the squelching of creativity as the FX television show, "Sons of Anarchy," makes so clear.  The alternative to straight, white middle class America is the tribe - in this case, a motorcycle club that was founded by a wild anarchist with a utilitarian bent.  They know how to initiate a young and unfocused male into manhood:  trial by fire.  Young "pledges" have to learn how to serve, they have to accept hierarchy and they have to trust the common good (narrowly defined, to be sure) over their own urges.

I've gotten "hooked" on "Sons of Anarchy" just like I did with both "The Sopranos" and "Rescue Me."  All three TV dramas are drenched in violence and over the top sex, but that is not what drives these programs.  That is window dressing - a means to an end - one of the ways to find a sustainable audience.  No, what is at the heart of each of these programs is the exploration of male initiation in a disintegrating culture.  Tony Soprano is on a vision quest at midlife - searching for integrity and meaning - when the only goals he knows are winning and fucking.  Same with Tommy (played by Dennis Leary in "Rescue Me") who is a NYC fire fighter wrestling with demons after the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11th.
The same holds for "Jax Teller" in "Sons of Anarchy."  He has paid his dues to the club.  He had done time in prison for the common good.  And learned how to serve his leaders never ratting out the brothers. And now that he has become the number two biker - the heir apparent - he is beginning to wonder if there isn't more to life than drinking, fucking and running guns.  I am curious to see what the writers do with this show.  Both the "Sopranos" and "Rescue Me" cut to the heart - and my hunch is that will be true with "Anarchy."  (For those who don't get this, check out the final two episodes of "Rescue Me" where Tommy goes to rescue his former lover from the punches of her new female lover.  After setting free the damsel in distress, he taunts - and then begs - the butch lesbian to beat him. Falling to his knees after repeated punches, he breaks down and weeps.  Violence is the only way he has learned to connect with his feelings... truly must see TV!)

Rohr's second point is that only well-initiated men are able to face the challenge of the second half of life:  embracing their limits.  The all too obvious charachitures of men going crazy at midlife is only the most visible sign of the problem.  The heart attacks of 40 year old executives and line workers, the rampant alcoholism and addiction to pornography are more masked signs of the same illness.  And the legions of cynical old fools who are cranky and mean-spirited at the end of their lives is but another clue that men who have not learned how to embrace their mortality and wild energy for the common good wind up wasting their most valuable years.

For about 15 years I have been exploring this theme and sense that the time has come in this congregation to do something about it.  Already we've put together a young guitar player army, but this work must be more intentional.  What's more, it has to reach out and embrace both the wise old men of the congregation as well as the young dads and single guys without connections.  This is one of the prayer themes that continues to ripen - and I think the time has come to go deeper, yes?


Black Pete said…
"Any goal that you can accomplish in one lifetime is aiming too low."

--I.F.Stone (paraphrase)
RJ said…
Amen to that brother!

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