A Wallet and a Cell Phone

campfire on the Jennings

 

When my son was six, I posed this question to him:

“Joshua, what does a man need to survive?” 

After careful and honest consideration, his response was:

“A wallet and a cell phone.”

It was brilliant. And painful.

Brilliant because of his perceptivity about our culture; painful because the culture in which my kids are being raised gives the false perception that his response is actually true.

Aldo Leopold, in Sand County Almanac, offers a thought that is part of the antidote to a world without men.

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other is believing that heat comes from the furnace.”

Something in us recoils.  Right.  These spiritual dangers have become institutionalized norms in our technological age.  Anything you need you can order online, even get it shipped for free in two days via Amazon Prime.  A few clicks are all that is required.  Yet in this age of über-convenience, something inside of us as men grows soft, atrophies, and slowly dies.

How do we avoid the spiritual dangers that Leopold describes? Damn, it’s hard. After all, most days it feels like heat does come from the furnace and our breakfast does come from the grocery. Moreover, on any given day doesn’t it feel “true” that what we really need to survive is a wallet and a cell phone?

What would it look like to begin recovery?  Particularly in this decade of excavation?

I’m not entirely sure.  After all, inherent in the masculine journey is rolling the dice and making decisions without the assurance of outcomes.

But I have a hunch and my hunch is this: context is everything, so we must create the contexts to experience another reality from the one our culture offers us.

We’ve been trying this out at our house for over a decade now, this creating alternative context in order to recover masculinity; and in some ways, I think it might even be working.

By way of example, we’ve been heading out to the national forest to chop wood and split it for the fireplace. To help make it fun for the kids, we’ve thrown in some budding rituals like a thermos of hot chicken broth and firing up the camp stove for ramen and hot chocolate.

It’s a challenge to shoehorn this connection with the natural world into our little suburgatory cookie cutter context, but it’s working.  We’ve got a cord of hand split firewood on the side of our home and we’ve had some remarkably rich family time in the evenings, sitting fireside, exchanging the glow of the TV for the enticing glow of dancing firelight.

In fact, these contexts are becoming part of the liturgy of our family…

Here’s an example of how we’re experiencing that breakfast actually comes from the “grace of nature” instead of the grocery store.

I didn’t grow up hunting, but I grew up with enough outdoor adventures to sow a longing that has come to fulfillment in this last decade through bow-hunting. God has fathered me one painful and hard lesson in the field at a time, and through His fathering I’ve had the privilege of chasing remarkable and elusive hooved creatures through ranging wilderness.

Our preference for the additional challenge of bow-hunting has resulted in meat for the freezer fewer times than hoped for.  But with a growing number of friends also pursuing the sport and the occasional gift of a buck put down by a minivan in carpool rush hour, we’ve managed to keep the freezer from being empty. (The joy of roadkill is another story for another day)

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Yesterday was one of those great days.  My buddy harvested a beautiful bull elk.  I encouraged him to consider processing the meat with our own hands in the Snyder Butcher Shop (aka the space created by a gracious wife who allows us to take over the kitchen with 300 pounds of bloody meat).  He took me up on it and we went to town.  All hands on deck as we worked to take this stunning bull from the field to the freezer with great care.  Eight hours later, meat packages were complete and all that was left at evening glow were four mostly meatless legs suspended from the garage ceiling and a regal skull and antlers on the cement floor ready for hanging and memory savoring for generations to come.

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The kids jumped right in as they have for years. Other kids and friends joined in for the first time.  It was community and liturgy at its best.

Last night, with fresh elk steaks hot off the grill and a roaring fire from freshly split Colorado aspens, something was healing in us, and in our world.  We avoided at least for a moment the spiritual dangers of which Leopold warns. For a moment, something was restored. Strengthened.  Our food didn’t come from the grocery and our heat didn’t come from the furnace. And it was good; really good.

Last week Joshua and I were talking about the biography of Daniel Boone that he’s reading. He told me his favorite quote from the book was Daniel’s saying: “A man needs three things.  A good horse, a good gun, and a good family.”

Somehow the conversation led to what we would do with $10,000.  Joshua’s response: “I would buy a chainsaw and a log splitter.”

Ahhh, something is changing.  My son stands on my shoulders.  We are gaining back ground long since surrendered.  We are yielding less and less.  Something long atrophied is budding with spring green.

And this morning, while I’m back at work in my office, in front of a laptop, listening to the hum in the HVAC vents as heat is coming from the furnace in the basement below, something is different.  Very different. I’ve got an irresistible smirk on my face. And it is good. Really good.

Somehow, some way, we need to go back and recover the pieces of our masculinity we lost along the way.  Some are universal; some are specific to our story.  Both must be recovered.  Restored.

But what I want to say more than anything is this:

It’s available.

Here. Now. Today. You don’t have to live in Colorado. You don’t have to be a hunter. Even if you don’t have a clue of what it would look like for you to begin recovering your masculinity. It is available.

Ask the Father to bring it, ask him to create contexts that are meaningful for you. Ask Jesus to be in it with you. And ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the next step.

Ask Him right now.  He’s smiling, waiting, and ready to saddle up and ride with you.

If you don’t you might end up like Mr. Mom, and it might not be pretty…

One Thing – Remembering 2012

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For a timeless evening, we feasted on the finest fare: the greatest delicacies of the work of God made manifest in each other’s lives.

In December I fought for some time to pause and remember 2012 with the Father, asking Him to help me remember the ways He had invested in my masculine journey over the year.  In a way of repentance from a world super-saturated with content, ideas and whatever is next, I responded to this question: “What’s my One Thing” from 2012 that most deeply shaped my masculine journey? I realized that of all that the Father revealed to me in 2012, no revelation has shaped me more than Unity Trumps Disunity.

I sat in the memories of how God brought that revelation to me, what it felt like to both ingest and digest it and what fruit it has already born in my marriage and even more in my intimacy with God. Joy and gratitude flooded my heart again; I was so grateful that Father had led me to pause and remember, to relish and relive. I felt the truth of His desire for union with me drop one level deeper into my heart.

The urging to remember is offered more than 160 times in scripture.  It must be why my office is littered with wildly unique rocks, antlers, pictures – all treasures that somehow help me to hold onto memories that would otherwise be carried away on the winds.

Oswald Chambers draws the connection between the act of remembering and our affection for God:

Don’t say to yourself, ‘But God is not talking to me right now.’ He ought to be. Remember whose you are and whom you serve. Encourage yourself to remember, and your affection for God will increase tenfold. Your mind will no longer be starved, but will be quick and enthusiastic, and your hope will be inexpressibly bright.

Yet, we are so prone to move on to the next thing and miss the opportunity to marinate in the miracle of God’s work that is in the recent past, still close at hand.  How much nourishment have I missed in years past through want of remembering…?

As I reflected on this radiant One Thing that Father had given me in 2012, it hit me: “Boy, I would love to know the One Thing from other men.  I’d love to feast at their tables and be nourished by what God did in their lives over the past year.”  Father reminded me that to remember is one of the holy and essential acts of our faith; yet to remember on behalf of others is even more heroic.  I wanted to pause and remember with and for other men.

The Father offered me a handful of names of peers He intended for this occasion of communal, masculine remembering. Last night we circled up and shared redemptive stories over some pints.  Each man took a block of time to share their One Thing.  We savored the deep and wonderful truths and encounters and reveled in the sheer Goodness of the Father.  Hope restored something in each of us deeper than words; water again flowed in the wadis deep within.  Conversation meandered, back and forth leading to deep questions, observations and words of affirmation from the Father… it all turned into prayer and then… simply silence and awe at the beauty and strength of the Trinity at work in our midst.

In the words of one of the men, “conditionally” not much is different in our lives this morning from our days leading up to last night; circumstances, for better and for worse, remain the same.  But “positionally,” much has shifted.  This “communal remembering” brought us closer to the Father. Nourished us.  Strengthened us.  Revived us. Renewed our sense of the Father’s love, the Father’s affection, and the Father’s pursuit.  We awoke this morning to find ourselves experientially closer to our Father and His generous and exotic love than we were yesterday.

What’s your One Thing for 2012?

“Father, what is the One most formative Thing that you gave me this past year?”

Ask God if He would have you gather a few men to reflect on the year past before this month slips away and 2013 is full steam upon us.

Fate has chosen you.

Evil will hunt you.

A fellowship will protect you.

-J.R.R. Tolkien

Cultivate your fellowship. Pause, remember and be nourished by His work in the lives of other men. Find comfort and protection in each other’s stories. Receive hope and vision for the year to come.

Father, we open ourselves again to your Ways. We open ourselves to your Love. We receive your Fathering afresh. Come, kind, good, strong, Father, lead us deeper into your Love this year.  And if you would have me gather some men and pause and remember together, I make myself available to you for that…

Forgive – Proverbs from the 2012 Intensive – Volume IX

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for·give/fərˈgiv/ v. to release from obligation or debt; to give up what is due

Be kind to your heart.

Forgive yourself for being broken and unfinished; always walk away from self-rejection.

You’ve been searching to find God when in fact, He has been searching for you all the days of your life.

Allow him to find you. -Les

Muskrat

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A few months ago my buddy John and I found ourselves deep in the wilderness of the Yukon. The pilgrimage to get there required over 3000 miles of commercial flying, a 250 km drive deep into the bush, a float plane to a remote lake, and a four-hour Argo trudge through woods, bog, and river. (Click here for a visual on the Argo journey if the video doesn’t appear below).

We were further off the grid than I had ever been in my life.  Drinking out of the stream, rationing the few precious beers that survived the arduous trek to base camp, and walking game trails with fresh grizzly tracks (likely a relative of the monster grizzly that was harvested in this very spot last year).

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I thought it was going to be mostly about hunting. But in the end, that wasn’t the gift God had intended. The gift was actually apprenticeship and invitation.

I’ve never had an interest in being a part of a guided hunt.  Eleven years of hunting has consisted mostly of teaching myself, asking a lot of questions, spending as much time as I can in the woods, making plenty of mistakes, learning painful lessons the hard way, and finally becoming a decent hunter and a neophyte woodsman.  “DIY” (Do It Yourself) hunting has a joy that is hard to match.  But this particular experience was unique and I could sense there were some gifts to be revealed along the way.

It turned out to be 10 days of graduate school in the masculine journey.  And our guide turned out to be the first true woodsman I had ever met in person.

Muskrat is the name we affectionately bestowed on Bryon Patchin by day four, after he pulled out a muskrat hat that he had made with his own hands, harvested from his winter trap line. Muskrat is a trapper by trade and fills his spare time by guiding hunting and fishing adventures in the backcountry.  He lives in a town of 28 people in northern Canada, closer to the Arctic Ocean than to Colorado.  And for ten days, we had all of his wisdom and skill to watch, interact with, and lean into. Ten days of life-on-life apprenticeship.

It reminded me of what Robert Bly talks about in Iron John regarding true apprenticeship:

When a father and son do spend long hours together, which some fathers and sons still do, we could say that a substance almost like food passes from the older body to the younger.

I was a Padawan with a Jedi of the way of the woods.

-Learning how to read tracks and a trail, understand animal behavior, lifecycle, activity and habitat.

-How to cook over a wood stove and campfire.

-How to handle a winch.

-How to handle and maintain a chainsaw.

-How to choose good firewood and how to split firewood.

-How to properly care for wild game for days in the wilderness.

-How to trap a beaver, muskrat, coyote, and wolf.

-How to tie life-saving knots.

-Learning patience, pace, and how to listen.

-Learning to be present.

Muskrat once cut and split 700 cords of firewood in the bush over two months time with a chainsaw and axe and only one other man.

He is a craftsman and an artist who has fierce mastery over his world. He built his house and his livelihood with his own sweat and hands.  In some ways his world is small, regarding the footprint. And yet its depth and breadth make it so much more vast in some ways than the lives of many men who inhabit a space a mile wide and an inch deep.

Everything he owns he knows both how it works and how to repair it.

He couldn’t be more different from the eco-friendly urban green folks who drive SUVs and pride themselves in using recycled bags and fluorescent light bulbs (I am among them).  But as a paradox, his life is more a living parable for the realities of reduce, re-use, and recycle than for anyone I’ve ever met.

He’s a hired guide, working a hunting camp he may never return to and at a minimum no one else will inhabit for at least a year. Yet, he has a pride of ownership and a care for the land.  He leaves it better than he found it; including fresh cut firewood for the next man who braves the trek or merely finds himself stranded and in need of warmth. In 10 days I didn’t see him multi-task once.  Whatever he did, he did it with intention, artistry, and care; whether repairing the Argo, splitting firewood, cooking a meal or tracking a moose. He could read a trail better than most men read through their inbox.  He would tune in, take his time. He would “be” nowhere else but “here.” It was unnerving in a way.  Sometimes, I thought he was even exaggerating the signs to keep our hope buoyed as we were in pursuit of a moose. Yet as the days went on, I began to see what he saw, at least in part.  I began to see with him the indicators about what animals came through – their species, size and direction.  He began to piece the creatures’ stories together and in turn allow our story to intercept theirs, creating close encounters while on foot with the bow.  It was primitive and masculine artistry.  True and beautiful.

Bryon (Muskrat) wielded the chainsaw like a master painter wields a brush.  It was like an extension of his body, even of his inner world. It was a wonder to sit by his side and watch him work the chain with his file, sharpening link by link with the utmost precision, as though he were cutting a diamond. Fierce Mastery – incarnate.  It was holy. It was beautiful.  All at once an act of grace and yet the culmination of years of relentless pursuit, trial and error, time in the field, skill-refining, hard work and eventual mastery.

I came home and bought a chainsaw.

I put up a cord of firewood for the winter in our little suburgatory bungalow. It’s the only response my heart could find.

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Want more on this? Check out Stranded with Flip Flops – A Case for a Generalist

Open Mind, Open Heart

For the over achiever, the discipline of center prayer can be one of the life saving spiritual disciplines available. Keating is a sage of sages. This book is a doorway into a piece of freedom, a way of abiding in the presence of God, and receiving peace in a way that is set apart from most. A must read.

The following is the description from Amazon:

This book is designed to initiate the reader into a deep, living relationship with God. Written by an acknowledged spiritual master, the book moves beyond “discursive meditation and particular acts to the intuitive level of contemplation.” Keating gives an overview of the history of contemplative prayer in the Christian tradition, and step-by-step guidance in the method of centering prayer. Special attention is paid to the role of the Sacred Word, Christian growth and transformation, and active prayer. The book ends with an explicit treatment of the contemplative dimension of the gospel. Open Mind, Open Heart will take readers into a world where God can do anything, into a realm of the greatest adventure—”Where one is open to the Infinite and hence to infinite possibilities.”