Monthly Archives: April 2007

Esolen on Manhood

Masculine resonance redux..

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I heartily commend to you Anthony Esolen, who I am finding is one of the most perceptive writers on the nature of manhood and the way men can and should relate to one another, particularly in this age when manhood is mostly viewed as a disease to be cured by the merciless ministrations of cultural feminism. 

You may find many of Esolen’s essays on this topic at Touchstone’s blog, Mere Comments.  Those essays by Esolen that are online may be found here.  Sadly, one of his most important essays (on the death of friendship among men) is not online.  From time to time I badger the editors about this; maybe they’ll tire of that eventually and grant me a boon. 

Meanwhile, Esolen has given an interview for the Roman Catholic news service Zenit.  Read it.  It’s not Catholic as much as it is catholic with regard to its subject matter.  Of course, rank and file American Catholics in this era of history, particularly its prelates, sorely need to hear Dr. Esolen’s admonitions.  But their need is certainly no less than the same needs among Protestant evangelicals, particulary among their squishy-complementarian and egalitarian prelates and seminary professors. 

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Filed under Man, the glory of God

May the Faithfully Departed Rest in Peace

Tom’s and Priscilla’s thoughtfulness on the 10th Anniversary of Cheska’s death.

Anniversaries are odd things.  At 3:05 this afternoon, on this date, ten years ago, my third daughter Francesca Louise died at the age of  nine years, five months, and 25 days.  We had learned of her brainstem tumor 468 days before, on January 9, 1996. 

This anniversary should be no different from any others like it, except that it is further removed from the Ur-event than previous anniversaries, and less removed from the anniversaries to come. But, the Lord seems to have thought anniversaries are important (e.g. the annual cycle of the feasts of the LORD in the Law), and that groups of anniversaries may be noteworthy  as well (e.g. the Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee, a Sabbath of sabbatical years).  So, perhaps, the first decade after Cheska’s death is worth noting for the reason that it is a decade, and the first decade at that.

The short story goes like this …

Cheska was the third of four daughters.  Her older sisters were hard-charging, bigger than life presences whose normal sibling rivalry contributed a constant syncopation to our domestic rhythms.  Aunt Kathy gave Cheska’s younger sister the nickname “Fun, Incorporated.”  Contrary to all this, Cheska’s demeanor was melancholic, serious, often pessimistic, early on aware of the Fall, the Curse, and all the woes that attend these features of the universe. 

Who’d have guessed that the Lord would have laid that trial on her small-boned frame?  But, there it was, in an MRI on January 9, 1996.  I should have guessed from the neuro-opthamologist’s manner that something horrid was afoot, as he told me “Your daughter has a pontine glioma.  You should consult a neuro-surgeon as soon as possible.” He said this, as I look back on it, with the tone appropriate for what the neuro-surgeon did tell me a couple of hours later.  “These things do not heal.  There is nothing I can do for your daughter.”  So, on that momentous day, our family set out on a 15 month, 12 day adventure to deposit Cheska at the gates of heaven, to depart from her until it’s our turn to pass through that portal. 

Mother, Father, and Cheska — a headstone in Waxahachie City CemeteryThat she was in Christ is an abiding comfort and provides a shining hope.  But, from another angle, her trial – unusual (at least in our expectations) for an eight-year old – has meaning only because she was a Christian.  Indeed, her youth, the monstrous calamity facing her, the near-inevitability of the outcome, the inexorable deterioration of her mobility over the months, the squalid humiliation of her final hours – the sheer enormity of it all pointed to issues far grander, much deeper, and necessarily other than a worrying, whiney eight-year old girl in a small Texas town. 

For us and for everyone watching us, the issue was necessarily Christ Himself and the veracity of His words.  The gospel itself was laid squarely on the table, and we alongside it, for everyone in our town, in our parish, throughout our extended family, and throughout the network of thousands of friends and acquaintances that come with over a decade of vocational ministry.  “Come to me, you who are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  How does that fit with what faced Cheska for almost 16 months?

We know the answers now, and they’re more than will fit into this blog.  So, I’ll skip to the end, and let Cheska provide her own testimony, in her own words, and by her own hand – her left hand, since her right hand (the dominant one) was by the time of this testimony, paralyzed.  In the last few weeks of her life, she set about writing small poems and she illustrated them as best she could with her weakened muscles and her severely marred vision.  

In previous years, on the anniversary of her death I have passed the exact moment sitting in an Anglican chapel that now bears her name.  It was in this chapel that she continued to worship all throughout her illness, even when she had to be physically assisted to the communion rail.  Her last Eucharist in this chapel was Easter Sunday. She was buried in that Easter outfit three weeks later.

 On this tenth anniversary of her death, however, I’ve decided to post this blog and four of her poems as evidence of Christ’s saving work in her soul.

 Cheska’s illustration of “God, God, Hear my cry”

God God

God, God in the sky,
Hold my hand, and hear my cry.

Sometimes, Lord, I wish to die.
I know that’s wrong, so I will try
To live my life, although it’s tough.
Lord I think I’ve had enough.

Lord I ask that You’d heal me.
This tumor’s got me by the knee.

God, my heart’s about to bust.
So please come down and live with us!

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Cheska’s illustration of “To My Fuzzy Daddy on his 50th Birthday”

To My Fuzzy Daddy
On  His 50th Birthday

I’m in a yucky hospital,
Where Id really like not to be,
‘Cause all they do is stick you,
Very uncomfortably.

Then it’s time for medicine,
I guess it’s for the best,
But let me tell you something,
It doesn’t give you much rest.

Oh no! Here comes the chemo!
They stuff it in my body.
I guess it’s time to see my Friend,
His name is Mr. Potty.

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Cheska’s illustration of “Test Sting”

Test Sting

Jesus loves me,
I can see.
He hates this test sting,
so does me.
He doesn’t test me
to make me sad,
make me mope,
make me mad.

He gives me tests
to check my heart,
to see if it is extra smart,
to see if it really believes in Him.
Lord, I hope this makes You grin:

I believe in you will all my might,
and wish to hug you extra tight.

Cheska three weeks before her home-going

Till This Goes Away

When I get to feeling that this will never go away,
I always find my Mommy, and we go and pray.

And, when I’m sad and lonely, and feeling most depressed,
We always find the Bible, lay down, and read, and rest.

And, till this goes away, though it may take a little while,
I’ll always try my best, to wear a happy smile.
 

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Filed under Woman, the glory of man, Woman, the Lady of Wisdom

What Can We Learn from the Monks?

Discipleship Journal’s edgy impression of a monk.In the September-October issue of 2005, Discipleship Journal published an article by Tim Morey, pastor of Life Covenant Church in Torrance, California.  Morey reported on lessons learned from an interesting source: monks.  Discipleship Journal does a lot of that kind of thing and no one blogs on it.  But, I’m blogging on this one (having just come across it), because of what Morey did not say.  In these days of general gender confusion, what he overlooked (or omitted ?) to say is more significant than what he actually said.

First the title of his article:  “What the Monks Taught Me.”   Discipleship Journal’s layout designers for the print-version of this article had some fun with the title, illustrating Pr Morey’s article with edgy, soft-focus motion-blurred torso-shots of monks in their habits (see the photo at the beginning of this blog for an example, preserved at Discipleship Journal’s archive). 

In the print-version of this article, the title was rendered in humongous Roman letters (at least 60 points), except for the word “Monks” which was twice as large as the already gigantic title.  The graphical message was clear:  “Can you believe this?  I actually learned something spiritually valuable from MONKS, for crying out loud.”  It’s rather like an article in a weight-loss magazine which screams, “Can you believe that I actually lost 100 pounds eating five cans of CAKE ICING every morning for breakfast?”

Pr. Morey had read some of the early writers who launched and nurtured the Christian monastic movement about 1500 years ago.  His article focuses primarily on St. Augustine, and he makes vague references to the Desert Fathers and Celtic monks.  From these sources Pr. Morey distilled six principles of Christian living.  The monks provide centuries of validation for the wholesome effect these principles produce in Christians’ lives.

So far, so good.  The principles mined from the lives of monks are good on their face.  They are easily confirmed from Scripture, and Morey includes numerous Bible citations to do just this.  Modern Christians would obviously benefit from applying any of the principles. 

Now, recommending the principles themselves is pretty unremarkable, and I’m confident Discipleship Journal would have declined an article that merely announced the principles and gave a simple defense of them. They’ve “been there and done that” countless times in their publication.  So, why is Morey’s article worthy for publication in Discipleship Journal ?

It’s the monks. When a pastor within  broadly evangelical Protestantism in 21st Century America draws pastoral inspiration from  monks who lived a millennium and more in the past – well, that’s pretty radical,right?  It gets our attention, and it’s supposed to. 

But once he gets our attention, Pr. Morey astounds us with a glaring omission.  He utterly ignores the one characteristic of the monks that cries out for comment and elaboration:  the monks were men.  Moreover, they were men who  served our Lord in ways that today’s evangelical men do not understand and do not even know about.  Today’s evangelical men would likely judge the life and service of the monks to be  alien and bizarre.

If spiritual capital can actually be mined from the lives of monks, the obvious place to invest that capital would be in the lives of today’s evangelical men (they are, we presume, a significant portion of the audience Discipleship Journal addresses).  That Pr. Morey does not make this connection sticks out like an angry zit on the Prom Queen’s chin.  

Instead, Morey employs a scrupulous gender neutrality when extracting lessons from the monks, as if these principles should work just as well for women as for men, or work in the same way for either sex, or work well in sexually mixed communities.  He gives no evidence of wondering whether these principles are evident in the lives of monks because they are all-male communities. 

I am composing this blog during layovers in the Omaha and St. Louis airports, as I return home from a weekend spent conferring with three all-male Christian groups. One group is composed of youths in high school, another of undergraduates in a Christian liberal arts college, the third group composed mostly of married men with children.  In fact, a brother named Joel in the latter group gave me Pr. Morey’s article as he handed copies of it to  other members of the group I conferred with. 

All of the men I conferred with are evangelical Protestants; none are monks; none of the  groups are “monastic” in any ordinary sense of that word.  Joel’s interest in the article was piqued by some of the principles Pr. Morey  mentions, principles he knew from his own application of lessons from monks.  He knew that I’d find the monk angle interesting for the same reasons he did.  And, I do. 

But after reading Pr. Morey, I’m amazed that the obvious applications of monastic life and worship to the spiritual lives of modern evangelical men are not found in his article.  These omissions are astounding for the same reason that the article grabs our attention in the first place:  the principles are embedded in a vast reservoir of insight into Christian manhood, preserved in the writings and history of the monks. 

Why is Morey’s article so enthusiastically egalitarian in its treatment of male-only communities?  One answer lies in the fact that Discipleship Journal is an arm of Navigators*, which, like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Youth With A Mission, encourages women as teachers of men and rulers of men in mission and ministry.  Under such an institutional policy, the Journal cannot smile on an article submitted to them which advocates anything smacking of traditional (i.e. patriarchal) Christianity. 

I found a second answer when I visited Morey’s church website  and learned that “Life Covenant Church is proud to be connected with the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church.”  Evidently, that “connection” entails compliance with this resolution of the ECC which was adopted by the Annual Meeting of The Evangelical Covenant Church, in June, 2006.  The resolution was presented by the ECC Commission on Biblical Gender Equality, and this pretty well signals its content. But, for the record, the resolution includes this declaration:

The Evangelical Covenant Church affirms women in all ministry and leadership positions within the church, both lay and clergy. We believe that the biblical basis for service in the body of Christ is giftedness, a call from God, and godly character – not gender.

I assume that Morey welcomed this resolution, having given so thorough a demonstration of its spirit in the article on the monks, published a few months earlier.

Meanwhile, modern Christian men are impoverished in those things that made the monks spiritually rich, strong, and productive.  It is tragic that Morey can read the monks well enough to discern their spiritual wealth, and yet find himself wearing egalitarian blinders that distort the example of the monks he rightly admires.  Consequently, he cannot offer those riches peculiar to Christian manhood to the Christian men of this age who languish for what the monks can teach them. 

It’s ironic that I come across this article on the weekend when I meet with other evangelical men, to confer on deploying spiritual disciplines originally pioneered by the monks.  In the near future, I will share with you a more detailed report on how we are deploying those disciplines in matters of spiritual formation, prayer, and communal worship.

Meanwhile, Pr. Morey serves as an example of how egalitarianism – a novelty in the life of the Church – distorts and obscures the lessons of the monks, lessons which are sorely needed by 21st Century men in Christ’s Church.   

*I am personally acquainted with many Navigator staff, overseas and on American campuses, who are thoroughly committed complentarians.  Almost all of them are “down in the ranks.”  Nevertheless, the management of Navigators is committed to egalitarianism when ordering men and women in Nav ministry.  As this commitment percolates down from the top, I am waiting to see if the effect within the ranks is the same as what I’ve observed within InterVarsity Christian Fellowship over the past decade. 

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Filed under Egalitarianism

Easter Hiatus

Icon of Christ at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai.Just a notice to wish all who visit a blessed Easter, and to advise that I’ll likely not post further until mid-week after Easter.  Lots on my plate, and this blog — as stimulating as it is to me — comes behind the work that pays the bills, responsibilities for worship (which are always extra during Holy Week for an Anglican cleric), and time spent with visiting family. 

Seamus presents much to interact with, most of which is beyond this blog’s subject matter and purpose, but which I will address in part next week.  When I resume posting, this post will disappear. 

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Why Can’t We All Get Along?

Why can’t we all get along?I think the conversation in the previous blog (“Tuning Forks, Iconic Men, and Masculine Resonance”) has pretty well run its course.  I thank Seamus and Michael both for their spirited exchanges in the comments. 

I’ll not engage each of Seamus’ criticisms as Michael has attempted to do.  Rather, I’ll indicate briefly why I mostly discount his criticism.  My reasons further explain how I answer a common plea offered by squishy complementarians and egalitarians alike ― why can’t we just get along?
 
First an observation on Seamus’ reliance on logic …

Time will temper that confidence, though it may take a while.  I had similar confidence in logic at that age, and it took me a couple of decades to retreat from it.  Actually, it’s not logic per se that captured my imagination.  Rather I was captivated by what I supposed was its short, straight route to truth. 

I eventually acknowledged what I heard at the age of 21 from the head of my undergraduate philosophy department (philosophy was my major):   “Logic makes nothing true.  It is a vehicle you may use to travel anywhere you please.  The most rigorously logical conclusions may be false; and the most illogical conclusions may be true.” 

Next, Seamus’ and others of his generation, when they offer their services as a guide to the unlearned (or, the illogical), lack standing for two reasons:  their youth, and the  parochialism that attends youth.  It’s the parochialism, the historical provincialism (a common feature of youth), that renders  egalitarians’ advice suspect.  In the case of egalitarians who are a tender 19 years old, I concur with Michael that their entire intellectual, moral, and cultural compasses are fashioned, formed, informed, and motivated by a feminist gestalt. 

The result?  They do not even understand the things we’re discussing here. 

You see, the world underwent a Copernican-like change in the area of the sexes before today’s crop of 20-somethings was born, and they are members of the second generation to be reared entirely within an educational, legal, cultural (and, probably, ecclesiastical) matrix that itself is commitedly feminist.  When people like Michael and me, who actually inhabited a pre-feminist culture, listen to apologists of the ascending feminist culture, we recognize that they do not know what WE are talking about as they critique the remnant of Western patriarchal values.

For two millennia, ever since the days of the Apostles, the Church has confessed and  taught and practiced the idea that men and women are profoundly different, that these differences are constitutional, divinely designed, and more than merely biological, that the moral and social dimensions of sexual distinctives are the critical differences for human happiness, productivity, and spirituality.  Oddly, the Church has never defended these ideas for the simple reason that they were never challenged until the mid 1950s!

In the current disagreements between the sexually orthodox and the egalitarians, our convictions conflict with those of the baptized feminists (aka “egalitarians”) in ways that show up in the disagreements between Seamus (and those who analyze things as he does) and Michael (along with myself and others like us) concerning the notion that men are saviors in ways that women are not and never should be.  But, these disagreements are, finally, “symptoms” of a far more fundamental disagreement about the nature and relationship of the sexes.  
 
However, the overwhelming reason we discount the egalitarian critique is this:  when it comes to matters where the Christian faith offers true certainty ― based not on logic, but on authority ― egalitarians dismiss this authority.  In the final analysis, Michael and I (and others like us) accept the Bible’s authority where it speaks to the issues under discussion here.  Modern-thinking folk like Seamus do not.

How do I know this?  A couple of touchstones are sufficient.

First of all, the idea that men are divinely created saviors arises from Biblical narrative, pattern, precedence, and prescription.  Peter tells us, for example, that women are “the weaker vessel.”  Seamus argues with vigor  that they are as strong as men.  Why should I credit him when Christ’s Apostle has spoken in contradiction to his profession? 

Another example ― Seamus is offended that Michael draws a conclusion from his boast that he wears his hair as long as Aragorn.  Then he dismisses Michael with a litany of contrary examples from history.  Leaving aside whether the historical evidence he adduces is factually accurate (about Jesus’ hair, for example) or relevant, Christ’s Apostle tells us flat out that long hair is a shame to a man.  Seamus glories in it.  What conclusion (we’re supposed to be logical, right?) am I supposed to draw about Seamus’ relationship to Apostolic teaching?  That he feels no shame with long hair is irrelevant.  I’m sure he feels no any shame at all.  But, either Paul or Seamus are correct; one of them must be wrong (logic again, right?).  I choose Paul; Seamus does not.   

That he chooses as he does is a touchstone for me as I ponder his view of the Bible.  If the Bible tells me that women are weaker than men, that long hair is a shame to a man while it is a glory to a woman, if it tells me and shows me a great many similar kinds of things about the nature and relationship of the sexes, I will take those things as a starting point in my ponderings on the implications. 

Egalitarians do not do this.  They routinely dismiss egalitarian-unfriendly narrative, patterns, precedents, and prescriptions in the Bible.  This is one reason Michael and I discern the feminist framework from which Seamus critiques us.  We’ve heard these kinds of critiques many times before, from those who do not quibble with wearing the feminist moniker.

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Filed under Complementarianism, Egalitarianism, Feminism