Four Weddings and a Funeral

Another good weekend filled with not-writing. I’ve been doing a lot of not-writing lately. In fact, I’m cranking out some of the finest not-writing of my life.

(There’s a rumor I’m about to be nominated for a anti-Pulitzer for best non-fiction not-writing.)

This weekend we all traveled in a family caravan to Austin for the wedding of a niece. It seems we’re in a season of life in which the majority of major family get-togethers are triggered either by marriage or death. The weddings are definitely much lighter, funner affairs than the funerals.

This is our second wedding in as many weeks. And we have two more to attend in the weeks to come.

Of course as the father of three daughters who will soon be 22, 20, an 18 years of age respectively, I’m finding it nigh-unto impossible to attend these lovely, joyous things without constantly wondering how much the bride’s parents are spending on everything.

Yes, I know how ugly and crass that sounds. I fight it. Honestly, I do. But it’s a symptom of my circumstances.

I spoke to one father who mentioned that he had pretty much cleaned out his savings for his only daughter’s recent wedding. I spoke to another who had to dip into his retirement funds. Again, he had only one daughter.

Let me just say that, given the effects of the Great Recession of ’08-‘?? on my business, neither of those are currently an option for us.

I’ve been blessed with three girls. And I mean “blessed” in the sincerest, non-ironic, most gratitude-filled way imaginable. As I have mentioned in this space on numerous occasions, I have loved every second of being a father to daughters.

I have always felt, and continue to feel, like George Bailey–“the richest man in town.” (And like George, there’s probably a magistrate with a warrant for my arrest on the doorstep as I write.)

Nevertheless, we believe better days are ahead. We’re anticipating a dramatic turnaround. We’re genuinely confident things won’t always be like they’ve been the last two or three years.

And I’m sure that when our time for weddings come, we’ll have all we need to make it a wonderful day–even if that requires a miracle. I’m assured of that because Jesus will be at the top of the guest list. And He has a track record were these things are concerned (see John 2:1-11)

Man Stuff

mack55diner

I mentioned in a previous post that a few Saturdays ago I spoke to a group of men called “318.” My topic was masculine spirituality  The audio of my talk is now available on the podcast page of their web site.

What a great and diverse group of men I met that morning.

I think I rambled on for about 45 minutes. If you’re interested, you can give it a listen here.

Postmodern Parenting Lunacy

pat

Two weeks ago I began a series of posts laying out a masculine model of spirituality. In that first post I observed:

Ten thousand Womens’ Studies masters theses were built around the doctrinaire assertion that there were no inherent differences between men and women other than some plumbing and a little difference in upper body strength.

In the same post I mentioned that these stubborn feminist orthodoxies were finally beginning to crumble under the weight of scientific evidence. But obviously not in Canada.

This article about two parents in Toronto who allow their children to decide what gender they are has to be read to be believed:

Parents keep child’s gender secret

“When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?’” says Witterick, bouncing Storm, dressed in a red-fleece jumper, on her lap at the kitchen table.

“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker.

When Storm was born, the couple sent an email to friends and family: “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place? …).”

These parents display a degree of faith in discredited “progressive” presuppositions that is simultaneously breathtaking and heartbreaking. If you doubted me that some people believe that the only difference between men and women is some plumbing, meet the parents of Jazz, Kio and Storm Stocker:

“What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It’s obnoxious,” says Stocker.

Jazz and Kio have picked out their own clothes in the boys and girls sections of stores since they were 18 months old. Just this week, Jazz unearthed a pink dress at Value Village, which he loves because it “really poofs out at the bottom. It feels so nice.” The boys decide whether to cut their hair or let it grow.

Like all mothers and fathers, Witterick and Stocker struggle with parenting decisions. The boys are encouraged to challenge how they’re expected to look and act based on their sex.

The idea that small children can decide their “gender” is a major exercise in denial and self-delusion. Gender is not cultural. It’s chromosomal. It’s not just a function of, to use the parent’s phrase, what’s between the legs. Hormonal influences in the womb have profound effects on the brain’s circuitry.

Even so, the holder of a “progressive” worldview desperately needs it to be true that there is no such thing as “sex roles.” Thus, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Progressive simply chooses to pretend it’s so. (And they accuse Christians of ignoring science.) I suspect you’ve already figured out that these parents hold political views that are, shall we say, left-of-center. How far left? Well . . .

Stocker teaches at City View Alternative, a tiny school west of Dufferin Grove Park, with four teachers and about 60 Grade 7 and 8 students whose lessons are framed by social-justice issues around class, race and gender.

When Kio was a baby, the family travelled through the mountains of Mexico, speaking with the Zapatistas, a revolutionary group who shun mainstream politics as corrupt and demand greater indigenous rights. In 1994, about 150 people died in violent clashes with the Mexican military, but the leftist movement has been largely peaceful since.

Last year, they spent two weeks in Cuba, living with local families and learning about the revolution.

Alrighty then.

By the way, this hatred for the concept of sex roles is at the root of the feminist movement’s near-maniacal commitment to abortion–even to the detriment of other “women’s issues.”

Pregnancy and childbirth are Nature screaming that men and women are designed for differing, complementary roles. To deny that this is so requires something very closely approximating religious faith.

A String of Big Weekends

Last weekend it was the college graduation of FOU #1.

This weekend, the rehearsal dinner and wedding of the daughter of some of our closest friends. We’ve known the bride since she was about three years old and have lived within a mile of her parents in three different states. It was my privilege to play the part of emcee at post-wedding reception.

Next weekend, it’s the wedding of niece in Austin. And the weekend after that?

Well, I’m scheduled to meet with the former president of large Latin American nation to discuss his book-in-progress.  And then meet with a prospective presidential candidate for that same nation.

Then we get a free weekend followed by two more family weddings. Lot’s of happy occasions. Much preferable to seeing aunts, uncles and cousins only at funerals (as was the case a couple weeks ago with the passing of my Uncle “Breezy.”)

By the time this conga line of celebration, socializing, and cake comes to a stop, we’ll officially be into summer.

Manly-Godly: A Few Final Thoughts on Masculine Spirituality

braveheart

In my previous post, I mentioned a book that had been profoundly influential in my thinking about what it means to be a Christian man. I didn’t mention the title–only that I read it about 12 years ago. Several readers guessed John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. A good guess, but that is not the book I was referring to.

In 1999 an Oregon pastor named Stu Weber came out with Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart: Bringing Strength Into Balance. I came across a copy on a friend’s shelf and have never been the same.

four-pillarsWeber’s thesis, in a nutshell, is that men are God-created to function (in equilibrium) in four different roles (pillars). And that there is a place for these roles  in every sphere of their lives–marriage, parenting, work, church and community. Those four pillars are:

Shepherd-King, Warrior, Mentor, and Friend.

The function of the Shepherd-King is to provide servant-leadership. The obvious biblical models are Moses, David and, of course, Jesus. In Warrior mode, a man protects and defends. There is also something in every man that was built to teach, model and build a legacy–in other words, be a Mentor. And finally, men are constructed for a unique brand of friendship.

Early on in Four Pillars, Weber points out that The Fall was in fact the result of a failure by Adam in all four areas. And throughout the book he reveals how many men lack balance–going to an extreme in one or more of the pillars while abdicating in others.

One of my favorte passages in the book is actually the text of a letter written 150 years ago. Sullivan Ballou was a soldier in the Civil War serving in the Rhode Island Volunteers. He wrote his beloved wife, Sarah, from an encampment only days before one of the first major battles of the war. Ken Burns also featured an excerpt of this letter in his brilliant documentary The Civil War.

Stu Weber cites it as a stunning example of balanced, four-pillared manhood expressed on paper. Here is the text of that letter:

July 14, 1861 Camp Clark, Washington

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more . . .

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution.

And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt . . .

Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us.

I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness . . . But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah do not mourn me dead. Think I am gone and waiting for thee, for we shall meet again . . .

*****

Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the first Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861. The above letter was found in his pocket.

Milestones

ch-grad-1

As the picture above suggests, it was a big weekend around our house. Our first-born, known in this blog as Female Offspring Unit #1, graduated from Baylor University.

She did us all proud. She finished in four years (an increasingly rare feat). She finished with distinction. And she passed the most important test of all. That is, she handled the autonomy and freedom that college provides with wisdom and prudence. Without us there to provide parental accountability, her faith, her morals and her reputation remained fully intact.

Four years ago I wrote a weepy blog post in anticipation of dropping her off for her Freshman year. It is almost inconceivable that this chapter of her journey is now complete. Back then I wrote:

Of course, she’ll be back. But we all know it will never again be quite the same. But that’s okay. What has been, has been very, very good. Far better than I deserve.

And indeed, we moved her back in on Sunday. She’s going to live at home for a while, pay down some school-related debt, and look for a job.

If you know of an employer looking for a smart, outgoing, energetic young graduate who can both write and present, I know where you can find one.

Fortunately, Michael Jackson Can Only Die Once

What does the demise of the Surgically Altered One have to do with anything? Well . . .

A heavy box from Tyndale House publishers arrived at the house yesterday. It was full of these:

pha-softcover

The Paul Harvey book has just been released in paperback form. I’m very pleased that Tyndale has chosen to do this. My hope is that it will find a wider readership in this new incarnation.

To be transparent for a moment, the fate of the hardcover edition of Paul Harvey’s America represents one of the most disappointing chapters of my life thus far. When in March of 2009, my dear friend Stephen Mansfield extended the invitation to collaborate with him on a book about the recently deceased radio icon, it represented a vision-come-true for me.

After ghost-writing or editing dozens of published books for other, more famous individuals, I had been hoping and dreaming of someday seeing a book or two with my name on the cover. And I was particularly interested in writing on subjects emerging from the colliding worlds of faith, media and the culture. The Paul Harvey book seemed custom tailored in Heaven.

Because of some unusual circumstances, the book had to be written in about a month. Even so, I felt very good about the content. Indeed, to this day I consider it the best writing I’ve ever done.

The book was scheduled for official release on July 4 (what better date for a book about a patriot) accompanied by a burst of publicity and media. Tyndale hired an outside publicist to generate buzz and get Stephen and I media interviews. I was told to clear my schedule because Stephen would only be available to do a couple of high profile interviews. The rest would come to me.

It seemed I was on my way.

As the end of June approached, the book actually released a little early. The publicity rocket was prepared for launch. Then, on the afternoon of June 29th, news began circulate online that Michael Jackson had died suddenly. For the next four weeks, no one in the media wanted to talk about anything else. The scandalous death of the scandal-plagued icon sucked all the oxygen out of the room for a full month.

Stephen did one interview–a taping with Mike Huckabee that didn’t run for weeks. Fox eventually ran it on a weekend and book sales jumped momentarily. I never did a single interview about the book.

Okay, that’s not completely accurate. A gentleman who does a weekend radio program on a Shreveport radio station interviewed me by phone for his show. He was gracious and I was grateful. And Paul Harvey’s America remains one of the best biographies no one has read.

Of course, it doesn’t help that we live in a youth-obsessed culture and people under the age of 35 have no idea who Paul Harvey was. Nevertheless, the writing gets a fresh chance at life now.

And Paul Harvey, America’s greatest optimist would have been the first to remind us that this great nation is all about second chances and the power of persistence.

More on a Masculine Model of Spirituality

masculine

Now to follow up on my previous post (Toward a Masculine Model of Spirituality.)

In it, I offered the thought that men have largely been offered what amounts to a feminine model of relationship with God. That is, one that is conversation-based rather than action-based.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, men generally tend to build or express friendship by doing things together. For men talking is usually incidental to, and a by-product of, the doing.

I know this leaves me open to charges of sexism from more progressive quarters. But every month I get written scientific evidence from AT&T Wireless about my phone talking and texting habits as they compare to those of the four wonderful women in my life.

Let me just say there is a consistent and astonishing disparity and leave it at that.

As I pointed out to the men in the group to which I spoke last Saturday, for most of us growing up, the most spiritual person we knew was a woman. (Usually a mother or grandmother.) Many men would say the same is true for them today–that their wives are more “spiritual” than they are.

Perhaps they are. Or maybe the current working definition of spirituality is simply skewed to reflect the natural feminine expression of friendship/relationship with God. Maybe deep, authentic friendship with God looks different in a man. As I’ve already made clear, I think that’s the case.

Here’s how that insight has affected my approach to being a Christian man.

The most dramatic difference has come in the way I approach prayer. Yes, I talk to God. And yes, I “with thanksgiving make my requests known” to Him. But that isn’t the meat of it. As I stated in the previous post, I no longer ask, “God, what do you want to talk about today?” I ask, “Father, what do you want to do today?”

The answer that comes back is never dull or lifeless.

Sometimes  I hear, “Let’s fight for the future husbands of your daughters.”

“But I don’t know who they are, Lord.”

“Oh but I do!”

Together, the Holy Spirit and I fight for their purity, for their destinies, and for their safety. We do battle with forces of discouragement, pornography, temptation, or deception that would scar their souls, pull them off the path, or damage their future prospects.

Sometimes he says, “Let’s fight on behalf of the persecuted church.” Sometimes we rush to the defense of embattled leaders.

Sometimes we build. Other times we tear down. We attack. We defend. We hunt (for enemy infiltrators.) We fish (for souls.) We travel to the other side of the world–to aid missionaries in perilous places. And we travel forward in time, doing preparatory work in my family’s future, even clearing out spiritual underbrush in the paths of my grandchildren yet unborn.

All of this happens without my ever having left the sitting area of our bedroom. That’s where I have my “quiet time.” Let me assure you, that phrase is a misnomer.

Now none of this spiritual activity is in any way the exclusive province of men. Women can and do make formidable spiritual warriors. Nevertheless, there is something about the way a man is wired that makes this kind of activity appealing and deeply satisfying. It is no accident that a lot of guys’ favorite historical movie is Braveheart and not Sense and Sensibility. And if more men viewed prayer and friendship with God in these muscular, action-oriented terms, a lot more men would be excited about it.

Naturally, this paradigm shift has implications that reach far beyond my prayer closet but I need to wind this up. As I said, I suspect that if men were presented a masculine version of spirituality, many more of them would sign up for it.

My thinking along these lines has also been profoundly impacted by a book I read about ten years ago. I’ll tell you which book, and why, in an upcoming post!

rolling

The End is Near-ish

My buddy Jon E. snapped the following photo on Highway 377 in the Keller/Watauga area north of Fort Worth.

377

Can’t quite make out the message? Here, allow me to zoom in for you . . .

377-zoomed

Still struggling? It says:

SAVE THE DATE!

RETURN OF CHRIST

May 21, 2011

Although the web site address at the bottom of the billboard is hard to make out, it is clearly the work of this group. These are the folks who, for at least the last nine months have been diligently and confidently warning the world that an event they call “Judgment Day” is scheduled for May 21st, 2011.

As the handy countdown clock displayed prominently on the eBible Fellowship home page reminds us, that’s only 12 days from now. Calling me “dubious” would be putting it gently.

As with many date-setters in years past, this bold, all-in assertion is built upon layer after layer of questionable (at best) assumptions. In this case, the assumptions include knowing the date of creation (11,013 BC apparently) and Noah’s flood (4990 BC). These day-counting calculations also have Jesus’ birth coming in on 7 BC (most Bible scholars place it in 3 or 4 BC) and His death and resurrection in AD 33 (which would have made Jesus 40 when He died).

But wait! There’s more

May 21 is just “Judgment Day,” not “the End of the World.” That, we’re told, is five months later: October 21.

Here’s the thing about that. October 21 is my birthday. I’m trying not to feel a little offended that these guys scheduled the final fiery apocalyptic collapse of all things on my special day.

On the other hand, five months and two weeks from now it could result in a conversation like this.

“Hey Dave, why so glum.”

“Well, I’m 52 today.”

“Hey, cheer up. It’s just a number. It’s not the end of the world.”

“Well, actually . . .”

Toward a Masculine Model of Spirituality

manly

It was a good morning yesterday. I spent it with about twenty men–ranging in age from roughly 22 to 82–and shared some thoughts about something I’ve been thinking, studying, and praying about for several years now.

318” is a diverse group of men who meet monthly for breakfast, some worship and a Word-based exhortation. I was invited to be  yesterday’s exhorter. At the heart of my topic was a stunning revelation. Namely, that men and women are different. Very different.

Of course, saying this tends to run counter to what was the conventional feminist wisdom for most of the last half of the last century. Ten thousand Womens’ Studies masters theses were built around the doctrinaire assertion that there were no inherent differences between men and women other than some plumbing and a little difference in upper body strength. It was an article of faith that men and women are equally suited and equally adept at all tasks in all ways and at all times. And that sex roles were social constructs–culturally imposed–and reinforced artificially through the toys we give our children and the expectations we put on them.

These beliefs proved impervious to both common sense and observable experience for decades. But in recent years they have finally begun to succumb to neuroscience. It is now widely understood that brain wiring makes women better at certain types of tasks than men, and vice versa. We’re different in complementary ways (almost as if by design, imagine that!) and those differences are built into our hardware and software. But I digress…

Given that men and women are designed with significant differences in brain wiring, hormonal chemistry, and physical capacities (hardware and software) does it really make sense that spirituality or more specifically, relationship/friendship with God would be expressed in identical ways? I don’t think so.

Yes, every person is comprised of spirit, soul, and body. And the Bible makes it clear that there are no male or female spirits. (Galatians 3:28; Matthew 22:30) But as noted above, there are clearly male and female bodies and, more importantly, souls–the soul being comprised of the mind, will and emotions.

A light came on for me several years ago when I heard Jimmy Evans of MarriageToday say something in regard to the differences between men and women. What he said certainly rang true to my experience and observations. It was, “In general, women tend to express friendship by talking together, while men tend to express friendship by doing things together.”

Certainly you can point to exceptions to every generalization such as the one above. But that doesn’t mean it’s not generally true. Generally when women want to reconnect with a friend and strengthen the relationship, they do this:

lunch

or this:

woman-on-telephone

Whereas men do this:

foursome

or this:

men-watching-tv

or this:

fishcamp

Allow me to restate the truism: Women tend to build and express friendship by talking to one another. Men tend to build and express friendship by doing things together.

Now ask yourself: “What have we traditionally been presented as the exclusive pathway for friendship with God?”

We’ve been told to have “a quiet time.” A time in which we sit down with God and share our feelings. We are supposed to talk to Him and let Him talk to us.

What men have been offered as a pathway to friendship with God and a model for prayer is essentially a sanctified tea party. We are to sit quietly, hands politely folded in our laps, and have a time of sharing.

And we wonder why traditionally women have far outnumbered men where interest in the things of God are concerned. We shake our heads sadly to observe that most prayer groups are filled with ladies.

I submit to you that we men have largely been presented with a feminine model of prayer and relationship with God. Let me hasten to add there there is nothing wrong with a feminine model of prayer . . . if you’re a woman . . . equipped with a female soul and body.

I can tell you that my prayer life and relationship with God has never been the same after that light came on for me upon hearing that factoid from Jimmy Evans. How did it change?

I’ll unpack that in an upcoming post. But I’ll tell you now that I no longer have a traditional “quiet time.” My times with God are anything but quiet. When I carve out some time to be with God, I don’t approach Him thinking, “What do I want to talk to you about today?” I approach asking:

“Father, what do you want to do today.”

More to come.