Oooh yeah. That title’s gonna get some search traffic. I mean… not as much as had I titled it… well… otherwise, but we’ll still get some heat, I think. We’re gonna be big with the gay porn crowd, Mike! FFFAAABBBBUUUULLLLOOOOUUUUUSSSSS!
This bit of cultural insensitivity has been brought to you by my masculine side, which is made uneasy by homosexuality and floral prints, by afternoon teas and movies starring Diane Lane.
This week [Author's Note: I started this post two weeks ago, and Mike shamed me into finishing it], our church staff spent three days at the Hume Lake Pastoral Conference. It’s a highlight of the year for us. The church pays for the nice housing up there, with sheets and all! We get to play Frisbee golf in the afternoons and eat fattening food all week that we don’t have to prepare. It’s a gas.
Usually, the speaker gives a sermon type series of messages, often focused around pastors’ universally favorite topic when gathered together: endurance and tribulation. Pastors spend a lot of time getting their asses kicked, so when we get together, we like to compare bootprints. Or… so directors of spiritual retreats seem to think.
This year was different. The speaker was a guy named Dr. Don Wilson, senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley, in Phoenix, Arizona. CCV, as it will be hitherto referred… to… is a very big church that Dr. Wilson founded and has shepherded for 24 years. He spoke to us as if we were at a church growth / vision casting seminar, and to be honest, it was a bit of a breath of fresh air up at Hume. He forced us to think a lot. He challenged us. He pissed me off, and I let him know about it, and now I’m blogging about it.
The thing that irritated me, the thing which will be our topic of discussion today, was his discussion of soft masculinity. His second teaching was about men. He pointed out that, statistically speaking, men between the ages of 25-40 are the least churched segment of the population. He also cited a Barna statistic (that I’m too lazy to actually find) that suggests that if you convert a child to Christianity, you get 3% of families that follow suit. If you convert a mother, you get 17% of entire families to follow. But, if you get the dad, 90+% of the time, the entire family becomes involved in the life of the church.
You know how mega-church pastors love their statistics.
He wants men in his church. That’s cool. I’m a man. I like to hang out with other men. I like manly man stuff. The statements that started to put a burr in my britches was statements like this, and Dr. Don, if you ever read this, I’m paraphrasing, so forgive me, “Men do not like to spend a lot of time talking about their feelings. That only appeals to soft men.” There were several statements made about “Soft Men” and the things that they did and didn’t like and there was this sort of not-so-subtle implication that they were inferior to “Hard Men.” (Insert Beavis and Butthead laugh here)
What is a Soft Man?
I first heard about this idea of feminized men as a cultural phenomenon in a little flick called Fight Club, which was based on a book by the same title by Chuck Palahniuk. Yes, I remember the first and second rules, but I’m still gonna talk about Fight Club. Ed Norton played a character who felt like society had stolen his masculinity and, ultimately, his identity from him. He lived in an Ikea-fied world. He had a job calculating risks for a major auto manufacturer. He was deathly bored, and having, as John Mayer might say, “A Quarter-Life Crisis.” FYI, by quoting John Mayer lyrics from memory, I disqualify myself from “Hard Man,” status. Yup… Beavis still thinks it’s funny.
Norton’s character meets Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden. Tyler is pure Id. He’s an entrepreneur, dresses like a rock star, shags like Brad Pitt, and befriends Norton’s pathetic sad sack. One fateful night, Tyler turns to him and says… “I want you to hit me as hard as you can… what can you really know about yourself if you haven’t been in a fight?” So… Norton does. They fight. They trade blows not because they’re angry with each other, but because they feel like they’ve been robbed of something primal and fundamentally male.
This, naturally, leads to psychosis, sex with Helena Bonham-Carter, and building demolition.
The movie made me want to go fight someone, preferably in a dark alley. I don’t know if I could take Shatner, but I know I could take Nimoy, and I would destroy Takei.
I had never felt particularly girlie before, and yet I knew the film had touched on something that was undeniably true. Men are changing. What it meant to be male, is changing. This is a huge topic to discuss, and I have absolutely no intention of giving even a fraction of the research that would be required to make intelligent statements about it, but I believe it’s true. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, right or wrong.
I hope this discussion can go somewhere, and all the rabbit trails can be run, but I want to just make the one point that I made to Dr. Don, when he opened the floor for questions. I said something like this…
“I get really hostile when I hear about Baby Boomers talking about feminized or soft males like they just emerged from the mist, or were grown in a tube down at FemmeLabs, inc. I especially get hostile when soft men are portrayed as inferior by boomers who don’t like to talk about the roles their generation played in creating ours, like… oh… I dunno… creating it.”
I could tell he was stoked that a guy with designer glasses, layered shirts, and carefully distressed jeans was taking him on right outta the chute in front of… well… everyone. I could practically hear Erica’s pulse skyrocketing, but he was diggin’ it. I refrained from inviting him to a discussion about soft masculinity while we ran the 3.5 mile loop around the lake, as… you know… I don’t want to be completely disrespectful… but it would have gone like this…
Chad (at a steady pace and heart rate): “So, in conclusion… I just don’t see why we can’t like to play football and know how to make our uniforms match!”
Don : “Gasp!”
Chad : “And furthermore… your stereotypes don’t help anything or reach any sort of conclusive game plan! Here I am, a professional musician and classic example of a 21st century “Soft” heterosexual, but I’ve negotiated a true place of leadership in both my home and community, not to mention the fact that I can outrun most of the “jocks” at your church!”
Don : “Oh, the burning!”
If you’re a boomer out there, and you think that we’re a bunch of sissies, just do me a favor and take a few moments to let me know that you know that you guys are the ones who broke all the rules and rewrote them as you saw fit. Only after I know that you have an accurate grasp on our current situation, can we get down to the business of discussing the pros and cons of a softer, gentler, and snappily dressed male population.
For the record, Dr. Don Wilson is a really cool guy. I introduced myself after that meeting and that lead to several discussion through the rest of the week. Dr. Wilson was raised on a farm in rural Kansas. He is indeed a man’s man, and he’s entitled to his take on the world. I found him gracious, ready to laugh at himself, and while I didn’t agree with his take on this particular topic, he himself said that if we agreed with 10% of what he said, he considered it a success. I agreed with somewhere between 45.6% and 51.2%, so I was doing well.
I think this discussion of the changes in gender roles is one that I am going to continue to explore here at The Road. I am sure that everyone will feel exactly as I do.
If you don’t, you’re obviously a total homo.