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)
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.
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:
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.