It is a confusing time to be a man. The definition of masculinity and what is expected of men seems to be a moving target.
Further, Toxic masculinity, is a term we hear everywhere. It implies that there are masculine traits that are inherently bad. This is likely because of terrible actions carried out by men, but for many of us, it is hard to reconcile with who we are as individuals compared to the perception of “toxic man”. Sometimes it seems that the sins of one man must be worn by all.
One response to toxic masculinity is to downplay traditional masculine traits and become more ‘reformed’. To be more passive and stay quiet so as not to offend.
The truth is that each one of us, man or woman, is capable of greatness and of great evil. Yet an evil act carried out by an individual should not paint every person with the same brush.
In a YouTube clip I viewed recently, Jordan Peterson spoke about the beatitude, “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5). I must admit that I have heard the beatitudes many times in my life and have never found this passage particularly inspiring. I understood meek to mean passive, timid, or even weak in the face of strength. My understanding of the word was flawed.
Peterson explains that another way of saying “blessed are the meek” is “blessed are those who carry swords and know how to use them but choose not to”. This is a much different proposition.
He goes on to discuss the modern idea that men should simply be agreeable and virtuous, and firmly rejects it. Instead, he suggests that we should strive to become ‘monsters’ and then learn to bring the monster under control. Watching the clip, a deep part of me says ‘yes’. Knowing true power, but voluntarily controlling it.
It is the stuff that the characters of great stories are made of.
This is who Aragorn is. It is who Maximus is. And, though I did not know it for most of my life, this is who Jesus is.
The Lion Roars
There is a passage from the Gospel of John when the words of Jesus are powerful enough to knock men down to the ground (Jn 18:6). Simply by confirming to the soldiers who are about to arrest Him that He is Jesus of Nazareth (“I am he”), the men are physically knocked back. It is the only time in the Gospel that Jesus’s supernatural power is used with such force.
Though I have heard this passage many times in my life, it was only recently that I considered the implication of this moment, and by extension Jesus’ entire public life.
Jesus carried this power within Him, yet He never used it to overpower anyone. He healed and performed other miracles and He could have used His power for any means that He saw fit but chose not to. Jesus kept His power sheathed, even when facing a violent death at the hands of men.
What can we learn from this? That in spite of the ability to overcome His adversaries and at any moment walk away from the Cross, Jesus chose to not use His power, and accept death out of love for each of us.
What appears to be an act of weakness in dying on the cross, is a demonstration of greater strength than we can imagine. True meekness is having the strength to overpower but choosing not to.
As the model for masculinity, Jesus perfectly demonstrates how to engage in different situations. He is tender and gentle when He is dealing with delicate situations. He flips tables and chases out those who are blatantly disrespecting the temple. He says what needs to be said in difficult circumstances and never shies away from the moment.
When I look at my own life, it is full of moments when I was harsh when tenderness was required, or passive when the moment called for direct action. I have been silent when my voice was needed and have spoken in haste, only to regret it.
This is not to say that every moment is like this, and with every mistake comes the opportunity for growth and maturing in who I am as a man. As a man, I need to embrace my masculinity and harness it. To bring the unique strength that only I can offer to my marriage, my children, and my community.
For men to be successful as husbands and fathers, we need to tap into the deepest parts of who we are and embrace our masculinity, not shy away from it. We need to grow in strength, boldly strike ahead, and protect those entrusted to our care.
Families need strong, engaged husbands and fathers. This is not just a feel-good statement. The data is clear on what fathers mean in the home.
Communities need men to be present, not passive. There is something appealing about seeing a person who is fully alive, carrying out the purpose for which their life is intended. When I see other men in my life living this way, it inspires me to do the same. As each of us step forward, we give other men the space and permission to do the same.
There are elements of our culture that would say that certain masculine traits should be trained out of men. For example, competitiveness is considered a masculine trait that some people think is a negative.
I do not agree. Competitiveness drives innovation and higher-level performance. Can it go too far? Of course. All traits have an extreme that is unhealthy. The key is to understand when it becomes unhealthy and then adjust. Embracing all of who we are, becoming a monster, and then controlling it leads to being fully alive.
It is in this mode that we can truly offer all of ourselves and harness all the goodness that masculinity has to offer.
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