Thursday, January 17, 2019

The best men can be: The Gillette ad and 'toxic masculinity'

Recently the Gillette Co., which has the longstanding motto "The Best a Man Can Get," released an ad, "The best men can be," warning about “toxic masculinity” that, though in my view totally on the one, has raised hackles among a number of conservatives — many of whom are saying that they’re boycotting the company — for attacking masculinity in general. (It doesn’t affect me personally because I’ve always used electric razors.)

I’ve seen the ad, which denounces catcalling and unwanted touching of women and bullying against anyone; I’ve personally seen the former and experienced the latter. Going further, I’ve been around “toxic masculinity,” even in my home, and want no part of it myself (indeed, that in part drove me to the Christian faith in the first place).

Thus, to call the ad an attack on masculinity itself is flatly ridiculous. After all, as disparate entities as The Good Men Project, an internet community, and Christian author John Eldredge, who writes about masculine development, have mentioned some of the very same things in their writings. What’s the difference?

It seems to me that the ad goes to the basic fear of conservatives: Cultural change that they didn’t order. You see, it was inspired by the #metoo movement, which was started by liberal women — and if there’s anything they hate, it’s promoting social and cultural change that’s seen at their expense or without their permission.

Recently Dennis Prager, as part of his “PragerU” propaganda series, released one praising the virtues of masculinity. But the narrator doesn’t even touch the actual — and legitimate — issue of abuse that the ad addresses, and that’s probably by design.

And let’s not forget another entity here: President Trump, the current epitome of toxic masculinity for reasons I've already rehearsed in other posts.

(I know what people are saying: “What about Bill Clinton?” Never mind that — because of Hillary.)

Interestingly enough, the PragerU video praises masculinity and encourages men to take responsibility. Nothing wrong with that.

So does the Gillette ad, by the way.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Has Trump hit the wall?

For years, many people have complained that we need an “outsider” in government to grab the reins of power from “special interests” and the “Beltway crowd” and return them to “the people.”

Well, in 2017 we got one with Trump. And, concerning the wall that he wants to construct along the border with Mexico, he clearly doesn’t understand the politics involved, which is why we’re in the midst of a partial government shutdown as I write.

Yesterday he reportedly left a negotiating session in a huff when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t promise him the $5.7 billion he wants for the wall. What he doesn’t quite understand that she can’t get the votes to approve that expenditure (although, in fairness, she probably doesn’t want to do so anyway). But none of the folks in Congress who represent the border areas directly affected want the wall, either, for numerous reasons.

It may be that Trump has, if you’ll excuse the expression, hit the wall. In his position you can’t simply snap your fingers and get things done the way he has always had things go.

Another issue is that too many Trump supporters confuse their personal ideology with America’s interests, never mind that too many Americans disagree strenuously with Trump’s agenda (witness not only the midterm elections in November but also related anti-Trump vehemence, Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s comment that “we’re gonna go in and impeach the motherf---er" only the strongest).

And according to Univsion TV anchor and author Jorge Ramos, writing in The New York Times, “Trump promised it in 2015, in the same speech in which he announced his candidacy, the same speech in which he called Mexican immigrants rapists, criminals and drug traffickers. His goal was to exploit the anxiety and resentment of voters in an increasingly multicultural, multiethnic society” — especially given that “people of color,” even those of an evangelical bent, tend to vote Democratic.

In other words, concerns about “border security,” especially considering that such border cities as San Diego, Calif.; Tucson, Ariz.; and El Paso, Texas, are among the very safest in the country, represent a xenophobic excuse.

The fight over the wall might very well be Trump’s Waterloo in that folks who oppose him are not only willing to fight, as indeed they always were, but also have received the political power to do so effectively. If they can leverage that power, they can make Trump look as weak as he already is.

And then we’re back to Square One.

Monday, January 7, 2019

A taste of their own medicine?

"And when your son looks at you and says, 'Momma, look you won, bullies don’t win,' and I said, 'Baby they don't,' because we’re gonna go in and impeach the motherf---er."

That is the context of the remarks that newly-installed Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan made last week at a gathering by the progressive group MoveOn.org that has many conservatives apoplectic.

Now, that epithet is a word I don’t and wouldn’t use, but it’s a symptom of just how low political discourse has fallen, and it’s by no means Tlaib’s fault. Conservatives have taken potshots, often personal attacks having nothing to do with policy, at their critics for decades, so it shouldn’t surprise that at some point those critics would start firing back. President Donald Trump, the target of her ire, himself has used language every bit as salty, even on the campaign trail and even as president, so he and his supporters don’t have the authority, moral or otherwise, to lecture anyone else on his or hers.

This is a case of “what goes around, comes around” or “you reap what you sow.” Rather than getting ticked off at Tlaib, perhaps such people ought to consider exhibiting some repentance for the atmosphere they helped to create.

Friday, January 4, 2019

"Your kingdom come ... "

I think it may be time for Kingdom of God-loving Christians to pray that President Donald Trump is removed from power.

In part because of any anticipated blowback, I do not say this lightly.  Those of you who know me know that I have never had any love for him; I’ve always felt that his arrogance, thin-skinnedness, unwillingness to work with those that disagree with him, coddling of dictators and other things have put this country at risk.

But this isn’t primarily a partisan issue to me. My reason for saying so is simple: In idolizing Trump — and let’s call it by its name, idolatry — too many Christians and their leaders, whether in the pulpit, media or political arena, have sold God out for the sake of temporal political power and in the process blasphemed Him. As a result, He’s eventually going to put much of evangelicalism on the shelf, which He does when people rebel or otherwise become useless for His purposes.

Well, what about Paul’s command to pray for our leaders (often used as an excuse to divert from Trump’s corruption)? Well, that comes with a caveat: One of the purposes of prayer is to transform the person praying and that in doing so God’s character shines through. Besides that, in those days the corrupt Nero was emperor in Rome and the early church had no power to change political leadership, so part of prayer was to remain strong for the purposes of withstanding persecution. Eventually, the Roman Empire was essentially destroyed not by power or might but because the faithful outlasted it.

Some others might think: Don’t you want Christian principles to hold primacy in our nation again? No, because it simply isn’t, and never has been, the political system’s or the culture’s job to reinforce what we believe. Expecting the laws and such to do so represents nothing less than lazy evangelism, if for no other reason that conversion takes place only when people see that lives are changed.

Not coincidentally, I see no sign of repentance from Trump despite the insistence of some that he’s a “baby Christian.” As Michael Gerson wrote in The Washington Post, “The very thing that should repel evangelicals — Trump’s dehumanization of others — is what seems to fascinate and attract some conservative Christians. It is yet another example of discrediting hypocrisy.”

Well, what about abortion? (That's an issue because Trump has nominated justices who belong to the right-wing Federalist Society to the Supreme Court.) Wouldn’t overturning Roe v. Wade please God? Not necessarily. Several things about the abortion issue that folks don’t understand: 1) Until the late 1800s abortion was actually legal; 2) When it was made illegal it was done so by that day’s liberals, with God, faith or religion playing virtually no role; and 3) Evangelical Christians didn’t even become heavily involved until the late 1970s — and it turns out that many were prodded by segregation, with abortion being used as moral cover.

We need to remember that, ultimately, the Kingdom of God is about love, not simply what Martin Luther King Jr. called “emotional bosh” but in the Greek known as agape, which can be translated as “justice,” whatever is right and best not only on a personal level but for society as a whole. That’s what we should be seeking, not political power to push people around with, as Gerson wrote, “the ultimate harm … to the reputation of faith itself.”

As I have said before, it’s either Jesus or Trump. We need to choose wisely because eternity is at stake.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Bad theology

Yesterday’s print edition of The New York Times carried an op-ed “Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus” by a Katherine Stewart, who, according to the newspaper, writes regularly about the political activities of evangelicals and other religious groups and is the author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.”

The analogy linking the first king of Persia and current President Trump is that the king allowed ancient Israel to rebuild itself to what it saw as its former splendor, and numerous evangelicals see Trump as the same.

So what does this come down to? Bad theology. And by that, I mean that much of the Bible has been twisted to justify his perfidy, constant falsehoods, overt racism and xenophobia for the sake of regaining or maintaining total political power. In essence, what they believe that anyone who believes differently from them isn’t fit to rule.

Ironically, it’s such arrogance that disqualifies Trump’s worshipers — and yes, they do worship him, whether they want to admit it or not — from a legitimate voice not only in society but also in speaking for God Himself, primarily because they blaspheme Him as a despot rather than as the loving Father that He is. It’s a direct rejection of the First Commandment that “You will have no other gods before Me.”

The thing is that the “religious right” isn’t, and in fact never truly was, interested in governing according to the spirit of the Scriptures; according to Stewart, “The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. [It isn’t] fighting a culture war. [It’s] making a direct attack on democracy itself.” In other words, it loves Trump because it subscribes to dictatorial norms in its desire to push people around.

In another bit of irony, however, many of your millennials are emptying out of evangelical churches because they’re not willing to put up with that garbage.

Which leads to another issue: Israel was sent into exile for disobedience, including its mistreatment of foreigners and exploitation of workers, both of which are expressly prohibited in even the Old Testament but that Trump has repeatedly committed, the latter for decades. Indeed, God created Israel to live by His standards and, in the process, be a blessing to the world — but Israel forgot that, ultimately turning inward and focusing on its own survival. As does the “religious right,” Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, asking in 2016, according to the article, “When are they going to start rolling out the boxcars to start hauling off Christians?”

If that’s what’s required to make Christians more penitent, perhaps we should be hauled off in boxcars, just as Israel was. And it had, at least temporarily, the desired result.

Remember one thing: God will not be mocked and doesn’t take lightly anyone trading on His name. As my pastor has said, “He may not settle his accounts right away, but he does settle his accounts.”

Friday, December 28, 2018

The lack of “soul care” and grace of God

As I write I’m repeating a Sunday School class on the book “Soul Care,” written by Rob Reimer, a professor of pastoral theology at Alliance Theological Seminary and founder of Renewal Ministries International. The class is being taught by the respective pastors of men’s and women’s ministries at my church.

I bring this up because, as part of the discussion, both have been frank about their struggles with families, their dysfunctions, their own woundedness, especially in childhood. That they had such issues no longer surprises me, although had I heard it decades ago it certainly would have.

I’m not going to go through the contents of the book; that would take way too long. But suffice it to say that I believe that part of the reason that the American evangelical church is ineffective in “reaching the lost” is due to its lack of authenticity — that is to say, its members often aren’t altogether honest, whether with themselves or others, about who they are and what they have to deal with.

Part of that, I would suspect, has do with the emphasis, most notably in the 1980s and ‘90s thanks to media “ministries,” about maintaining an image of a strong family, especially one with a strong father figure. The trouble, of course, was that the image never dealt with the reality of everyone in a family being weak in his or her own way.

To give examples, supposedly a majority of Christian men, even pastors, have problems with pornography. In “complementarian” households — in practice, where men have much more of the power — men are most likely to abuse their wives and children. The divorce rate among evangelicals is even higher than the rest of the world. It’s long accepted that sex outside of covenant marriage is rampant among evangelicals, with not even such pro-chastity programs as “True Love Waits” and the “Silver Ring Thing” having much effect among teens.

I suspect that we’re focusing more on the symptoms because we don’t want to appear weak in a culture that doesn’t agree with what we consider our values. But maybe maintaining “values” is the heart of the problem — in a way, doing so represents a subtle form of idolatry because, if you have “values,” what do you really need Jesus for? (This is why trying to refocus upon getting such values back in the public square can never work.)

One of my favorite books is Philip Yancey’s “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”, and in it he suggested that effective church fellowship should be run like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting — everyone needs what he called “grace on tap.” And when you look at things in that way, you often get rid of the judgmentalism that’s rampant in many church settings.

The pastor of men’s ministry at my church has mentioned that the purpose of the Soul Care class was to deepen “intimacy with God,” and that should lead to a better understanding of His grace. And then that grace can transform lives in a way that edicts and programs simply can’t.

Why the ‘rules’ don’t always apply — one man’s opinion

A few weeks ago I was privileged to counsel a young woman on a Christian singles page on Facebook concerning her love life — she was falling for a fellow member of her church’s worship team whom she always thought of as a brother but simultaneously noted that he was acting strangely and “pulling away” from her. So I asked her a few questions — and discerned that he too was becoming smitten with her. I was frank in telling her that she needed to tell this guy how she was feeling about him.

Of course, she didn’t quite get it at first because she had fallen into the trap of thinking that she should wait for him to make the first move, and frankly, she was scared to death — something to the effect of “what if he rejects me?” She even noted that he was happy being single, was even planning on moving to another country, likely for mission work, and had turned down two other women whose eye he’d caught. Nevertheless, I persisted, telling her that “He may want to take you with him.”

It thus gratified me when she later told me that I had been right all along on all counts. She hasn’t yet mentioned any marriage plans but did hint that for several reasons he was actually afraid in his own right to tell her how he felt about her.

So why do I bring this up? Well, I’m on a couple of other Christian singles pages, and conventional wisdom, at least from women, goes that a Christian man should have the confidence to approach a woman in whom he’s interested and ask her on a date. As a man, I can tell you that it will never work that way.

Why not? Because men who do that are either excellent actors — and, trust me, most of us aren’t — or truly not emotionally invested in having a relationship with this particular woman. In the latter case, asking a woman on a date turns out to be no big deal and he can take or leave her and find another.

I was recently convicted of having done this. Over the past 10 years or so I’ve had a number of short-term relationships that have always fallen apart for one reason or another; though I did and do enjoy dating for its own sake at times, in these cases it was too easy. While I was certainly open to the idea that I had found “the one,” after they collapsed I found that I wasn’t all that heartbroken. Perhaps the amount of time we spent together didn’t lend itself to a more intimate relationship; I can only speculate.

You see, men really do have ego issues when it comes to dating. When a guy sees someone he really likes he often does get tongue-tied or otherwise act unusual; in the case I just described, the guy she liked started wearing cologne, which he had never done. (Think of the old Rickie Lee Jones song “Chuck E.’s in Love.”) Whether women realize it or not, a woman saying “no” to a man’s interest — and I wish someone had told me this when I was younger — is absolutely devastating, and after a few times of being shot down, which most every man’s experienced unless he finds the right one very early, he’s almost afraid to try again. An in a case of irony, he often shuts down his heart and becomes “cool” — and gains interest.

I hope you see where I’m going with this. The very expectation that a man will be strong and confident when he approaches a woman actually can mean a lack of authenticity on his part, the very thing that will turn her off down the road.

I had to laugh when I first saw the meme “I don’t need to flirt — I will seduce you with my awkwardness.” Because if a man turns awkward in dealing with a woman, it’s a sure sign that, to borrow the phrase from the movie, she has him at hello.