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Books Men's Work with a Christian perspective

Many men recognize that there is a spiritual dimension to "Men's Work." Just as there is in the Jungian focus of this "inner work." Here are some books with a spiritual focus, that offer an alternative to the "fundamentalist" or "evangelical" approach in groups such as the Promise Keepers. Robert Moore's King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, Robert Bly's Iron John, Aaron Kipnis' Knights Without Armor and some of the books on this list might be useful for a church-affiliated men's group or for men who might wonder if the "myths" and stories of our own Christian tradition might not have as much to offer us as those of other cultures.

 

Arnold, Patrick M., Wildmen, Warriors and Kings: Masculine Spirituality and the Bible. New York: Crossroad, 1991) Order on-line

Jesuit Patrick Arnold brings his sharp mind and sharp pen to bear on articulating a masculine spirituality that draws on Jewish and Christian spiritual tradition to find powerful, challenging, healing images for men as they face the dangers, stresses, and vapidity of modern life. His thesis is that although modern liberal tradition has lost awareness of male spiritual needs, and even grown hostile to them, great resources for men still lie buried in the biblical and historical tradition.

As a child Arnold encountered men who spent a lot of time in the Black Hills, who almost always had a very appealing air of wisdom and spiritual strength about them, a sense of belonging to the earth and relatedness to its creatures. "I'm not a religious man, I don't go to church, but up here in the Hills I feel close to God and I talk to him in my own words." There does not seem to be room in the modern church for these men, in part because of the mysandry in seminaries in the last decade or two. After an excellent chapter on masculine spirituality, he urges men to add "mysandry" (man-hatred)(characterized as an ideological spin-off of extreme feminism) to his private glossary of important terms and gives examples of mysandry in seminaries. One of the most compelling is the female theological professor who forbade men from speaking in her class.

The book then presents masculine archetypes from the Bible. Robert Bly, who wrote an excellent introduction, found the chapter on Jonah the Trickster particularly brilliant. Other chapters discuss Abraham the Patriarch and Pilgrim, Moses the Warrior and Magician, Solomon the King, Elijah the Wildman, Elisha the Healer, Jeremiah the Prophet, and the Lover. It concludes with a discussion of the masculinity of God. Perhaps it is this part that Robert Bly was thinking of when he describes this as "a brave, passionate, and sometimes one-sided book."

Gregory Max Vogt, Return to Father: Archetypal Dimensions of the Patriarch. (Dallas, TX: Spring, 1991) Order on-line

This is one of those books that can make you feel good about being a man. "Patriarchy" has come to be a dirty word -- responsible for all the ills of the world. But as the author points out, most men alive remember a time when the word was used as a term of distinction for a founder of a town, an organization, an institution, or a school of thought. A particular kind of patriarchy has been responsible for an attitude and actions of cruel exploitation of others, particularly of women and children. Traditional patriarchy aspires to domination by conscious control of all people, places, and things, organic and inorganic.

But to define patriarchy so narrowly misses the richness of the figure and condemns the thinker to the same kind of one-up, one-down thinking that he or she is repudiating in the patriarch. Mr. Vogt offers us a vision of "homologous" patriarchy, which honors a different experience of the strength and wisdom of the father. A homologous view of the universe does not see things apart and in conflict with each other, but sees reflection, similarity, parallel, echo, reverberating through all things. Homologous patriarchy is a pattern of prowess, competition and strength exercised for the development of inner and outer man for the good of personal excellence and for the health of the individual, the family and the community. It is not against the female but supports the value of the male body and the male self. It is self-reflective, open for comment. It is courageous and supports warrior values. It is phallic; it is erect for pleasure, production, creativity and relationships with others.

We hear of deep matrix mother Earth, womb of life, which describes the female energy role of establishing our connectedness with each other and with the cosmos. Sam Keen in The Passionate Life coins the term "patrix" to describe the ordering, structuring, and rule-giving role of male energy in our life. Vogt uses the analogy of the "man's house" into which we are initiated. He gives up pride in our great patriarchal tradition of hunter, builder, lover, philosopher, and visionary. The book is a poetic evocation of the strong, positive images of the patriarch.


The Wild Man's Journey

Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Wild Man's Journey: Reflections on Male Spirituality. (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1991) Order on-line

This is a rich collection of excellent, thoughtful and thought-provoking essays. It is based on talks that Richard Rohr, O.F.M., founder and co-director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. Rohr's own path, described in one of his essays, began as a pastor at New Jerusalem, an intentional community that emphasized getting in tough with the feminine and interpersonal skills in community-building, but pulled back from taking action against injustices in the world. Some fierceness was missing. He analogizes the path of masculine spirituality to the path of the two Johns--John the Beloved, who put his head on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper (movement to the feminine) and John the Baptist, the "Wild Man" who stands at the edge of society and fiecely states his Truth at whatever cost (the movement to the deeper masculine).

In the essay "Men's Liberation" he says men's liberation is more difficult because we don't realize how "the system" or "the rat race" oppresses us, or if we recognize it we believe that's simply the way it is. But there is a way out of this.

The titles of some of the other essays demonstrate the broad range of this book. "Male initiation." "Separation-Encounter-Return." "Father Hunger." "The Father Wound." "The Empty Soul." "Left Brain and Right Brain." "Man the Seed Bearer." "Doing and Being." "Soul Images of Men." Each of these essays would be a fruitful topic for men to think about and talk to each other about.

The Men We Long to Be

Steven Blake Boyd, The Men We Long to Be: Beyond Lonely Warriors and Desperate Lovers. (Pilgrim Press, 1997) Order on-line

Steve has led a number of men's gatherings and retreats, especially for the Raleigh Men's Center. I have only had a chance to glance at this book, but it looks good. He speaks wisely on a number of issues that come up when men get together to talk about what's going on in their lives.

David C. James, What Are They Saying About Masculine Spirituality? (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1996) Order on-line

This delightful little book provides an excellent overview of how the "men's movement" has influenced developments in "masculine spirituality." The author does a good job of fitting the main themes of the "men's movement" into a spirituality intentionally grounded in the symbols, stories and reflections of men. One that is what he calls "a God-path that is dedicated to men and yet not ... anti-woman." It's a difficult task at a time when feminist critics say that the problem with religion is that it's all male, and many men have grown distant from church.

Masculine spirituality is a spirituality that speaks specifically to men, that recognizes the harmful effects of patriarchy on men and women alike, and recognizes that the call to live as a man on the God-path is a responsibility best undertaken apart from the influence of women. His is a call to the tasks of mature masculinity, tasks for healing the masculine soul. It lives up to the book jacket description "it takes seriously the ways that God and men are revealed to each other through theology, scripture, behavioral sciences, anthropology, history and the countless shared stories of men who gather together to discover authentic masculinity." The last chapter, "The Community of Man," speaks of the value of men's groups, where the real "Men's Work" is done, and of filling young men's needs for initiation.

Robert Hicks, Uneasy Manhood: The Quest for Self-Understanding. (Nashville, TN: Oliver Nelson, 1991) Order 1997 edition pub. by Fleming Revelle Co. on-line

Manhood is tough, according to Robert Hicks, Professor of Pastoral Theology as the Seminary of the East in Pennsylvania. In this highly readable book he discusses all the issues we feel, yet seem afraid to talk to other men about. Why do I have so few friends? Why is my relationship with my father so disappointing? Why do I feel compelled to work so hard? Why do I frequently feel uncomfortable with God, with the Church and with my faith? This would be an ideal book for a small Promise Keeper group to read together, to discuss at its weekly or monthly meetings.

Chapters are devoted to uneasy buddies, uneasy marriage, uneasy paychecks, uneasy sex, uneasy fathering, uneasy Sundays (why men feel out of place in church),and uneasy spirituality, that feeling that women are, somehow, more spiritual. The book concludes with a call to "Christly Manhood" that integrates strength and compassion, intellect and emotion, present and future, purpose and freedom, strength and sensitivity with women, parental honor and independence, and, in short, all aspects of life.

Gordon Dalbey, Healing the Masculine Soul: An Affirming Message for Men and the Women who Love Them. (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1988)

In an age of women's emancipation, the book jacket states, many books have engaged in "male-bashing," often asking why men can't be more like women. In reaction, the media glorify the self-centered, destructive, Rambo macho male. Can the man who rejects both the women's and the Rambo definitions of manhood nevertheless walk in true masculine courage and strength? Gordon Dalbey, a United Church of Christ minister and Harvard Divinity School graduate, says the answer is in recognizing the woundedness of the male soul and the Great Physician who would recall him to his authentic masculine self.

Rev. Dalbey began his Men's Work after reading an inspiring article by Ted Dobson, a Catholic priest, called "Healing the Tear in the Masculine Soul." This metaphor remains a powerful image throughout the book. He offered a course through his high school's adult education department. Participants ranged from "born again" Christians, to Jews, to "none." Through prayer, he was led to offer Men's Work with a Christian spiritual perspective, through churches.

I have difficulty with his assertion that, from the spiritual perspective homosexuality "reflects a deep inner brokenness which only the Father God can heal." Many churches are open to gays and lesbians, without being driven to "fix" them. Aside from that, the clear writing, liberal use of examples from real people's lives, and Rev. Dalbey's sensitive and caring approach make this book a worthwhile way to approach dealing with the sense of woundedness and emptiness in our lives, from a Christian perspective

Note: Rev. George Dalbey now has a Website, http://www.abbafather.com/, you might want to check out.


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