Anything, Anywhere – The Four Primary Questions for Masculine Initiation

His joy was infectious.  And every circumstance and every outcome of this moment was not conducive to joy.  Paul was a beaten, broken man.  He had suffered physical abuse, spiritual abuse, emotional abuse. He was lonely, cold and imprisoned.

And nothing could stop his joy.  After years of practice, years of training and years of consenting to something we can only name as initiation, he had become the kind of man whose joy and confidence and gratitude was no longer dependent upon either circumstances or outcomes.

When we consider Paul’s story, we see that he’d been immersed in the Reality of God and His Kingdom through both personal Divine encounter on the road to Damascus and an ongoing process which included fourteen years of which we know nothing of his life. Put simply, over time, he had been completely transformed. It is from this place he penned a letter to the followers of the Way, articulating this inextinguishable connection to God.

No man has made a more provocative declaration. Paul invites us into his soul. 

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Phil 4:12-13)

Here’s Peterson’s paraphrase of this passage in The Message:

I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

When I pause to consider the essence of masculine initiation and the reality of how Paul practiced, trained, and learned this way of being with God—wholehearted—in the world, I am drawn to this application (or paraphrase, if you like) of Paul’s text originally penned by Richard Rohr. Here’s how it captures a vision of the initiated masculine soul:

Now that I have gone through my initiation,

I am ready.

For anything.

Anywhere.

You see, over a decade of training after his well-known “conversion,” Paul had become the kind of person who was deeply convinced of the reliability of God and His Kingdom.

In particular, he’d grown in confidence that an experiential process of initiation is available, one that can be trusted to effectively connect the human spirit with the active life of God. It was clear from Paul’s life that the fruit of consenting to the process of initiation is a robust well-being that transcends both the best and worst of circumstances.  

In other words…

Now that I have been so immersed in the true nature of God and His Kingdom,

Now that I have thoroughly put to death the self-sufficiency and self-preservation of the false self,

Now that I have been resurrected and restored into my true self,

Now that I have become, in my essence, what God meant when He meant man,

Now that I have become uniquely who God meant when He meant me,

Now that I have trained and become practiced in living a life in experiential union with God Himself,

Now that it is no longer the separate-I who lives, but the very breath, strength, and life of God-with-me who lives in me,

I am ready.

Ready for anything, anywhere.

I have passed through the death of my small life.

Rather than resisting death, I have endured the sting of death and discovered the truth that death cannot annihilate what is most true about my masculine soul, about who I truly am.

And now I live.

I really live.

I’ve been initiated by my Father to live in union with Him in a storied Reality that includes and transcends every other story in my life.

I have been initiated, in part, through completing a quest. A Vision Quest for the masculine soul.

Here’s why this is absolutely central to the masculine soul.

Almost every culture predating the modern world had a process of initiating boys into men. In some cultures, male initiation was intentional, deeply ritualized, and publicly celebrated. In other cultures, male initiation precipitated indirectly but with equal effectiveness because the survival of the culture depended upon it.   

  • Sparta 800 B.C.—At age seven, boys left their families to participate in boarding schools where both their strength and their resolve was tested.²
  •  In Iron John, Robert Bly reminds us, “… The traditional ways of raising sons, which lasted for thousands and thousands of years, amounted to fathers and sons living in close—murderously close—proximity, while the father taught the son a trade; perhaps farming or carpentry or blacksmithing or tailoring…”
  • The first boy’s initiation among the Maasai tribe in the Republic of Kenya is known as Enkipaata (pre-circumcision ceremony). “[Initiation] is organized by fathers…when the senior warriors are settled. A delegation of boys, aged 14 to 16 years of age, would travel across their section of land for about four months…The boys are accompanied by a group of elders spearheading the formation of a new age-set…The boys across the region will be united and initiated…The day before the ceremony, boys must sleep outside in the forest…Once the boys become warriors they resume responsibility of security for their territory.³

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. So it is with male initiation. In historical eras when most of a community’s effort was focused on securing food, clothing, shelter, and safety, the survival of a community depended on the hearts of its members being able to live beyond their own self-interest; the survival and flourishing of an individual apart from his people was as inconceivable as it was impossible. A mantra of “each man for himself” was untenable. Each man had to be for the whole, not only for the self. The heart of the warrior willing to spend himself on behalf of the good of the whole was essential.

We live in different times. Every age faces unique challenges and assaults against the flourishing of the human soul. And every age offers a unique possibility for salvation as whole people, both individually and communally.

For thousands of years, Aboriginal boys living near Kojunnup, “the place of the stone ax” in Australia, were led out at the conclusion of their initiation rite to create a stone axe. Returning to the community with axe in hand, they embodied a new reality that they were also soulfully equipped to wield “power on behalf of the good of the community.”⁴

Backed by the prooftext of history, I offer a bold proposition:

The lack of consistent and intentional male initiation is one of the most destructive omissions of our age.

It is why, when we look around in our stories and upon the earth, we can see the devastating impact of uninitiated men accumulating power that is not wielded for the good of the community.

“What we have now is a world of uninitiated men. Partial men. Boys, mostly walking around in men’s bodies, with men’s jobs and families, finances, and responsibilities. The passing on of masculinity was never completed, if it was begun at all. The boy was never taken through the process of masculine initiation.” John Eldredge, Fathered by God

But this is not the final word.

I am banking much of my life on this idea as well:

The Father’s ongoing initiation of the masculine soul has the final word. And inviting us and guiding us through this process of masculine initiation is mostly what God is up to in the life of every man.

In every great story, there is both a rescue and a way back to life.

And as Dallas reminds us, God is perfectly capable of saving the world He created. He is at work, here, today.

I want to suggest that one of the primary ways God is saving the hearts of men, the earth, and all of humankind is through reconstituting patterns of male initiation and specifically, particularly, around the centerpiece of the Vision Quest.

Without a vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).

To be precise, without a revelation, without an intimate heart-knowing of Reality, the human heart will suffer deeply.

The Vision Quest was intended to be the heartbeat of the journey a boy took through his early years, his teenage years, and into manhood.

And it is a journey that empowers the masculine soul to grow and mature into full manhood, empowering a man to live from a Source beyond himself for the good of the whole community.

It is a journey that cannot be fast-tracked or industrialized.

Yet it is a journey available to every man in every season—if he is willing to respond to God’s invitation.

The Vision Quest is the path to becoming the kind of man who can say with confidence,

I am ready.

For anything, anywhere.

In its essence, the Vision Quest is a God-led, God-bathed, God-initiated process that requires both our response and our interactive participation.

It is a story that both transcends and includes every other story of our life.

And it is a quest that can sufficiently speak to—among other things—four deep questions of the masculine soul:

What is God like?

Walter Bruggemann came to the conclusion that “God is wild, dangerous, unfettered and free.” Tozer took it even deeper, suggesting that “God is a person, and in the deep of His mighty nature He thinks, wills, enjoys, feels, loves, desires and suffers as any other person may.” What is God really like? What is His nature, personality, quality, and Way?

What is the story in which I find myself?

G. K. Chesterton said, “We live in narrative, we live in story. Existence has a story shape to it. We have a beginning and and end, we have plot and characters…” What is that Story, the nature of Reality?

Who am I?

Chesterton also said that “we are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have forgotten what we truly are.” What does it mean to be made in the image of God, as a man? How do I uniquely bear the image of God? It is only by wrestling with this deeply soulful question that we will become who we were born to be.

What is my frontier?

Howard Macey offers the idea that “the spiritual life cannot be made suburban, it is always frontier. Those who choose to live in it must not only accept it, but even rejoice that it remain untamed.” If we are being made ready to be entrusted with God’s Kingdom to rule for all of eternity, what preparation and training has He appointed for this season and this story? What is this personal soul-forging edge of my journey toward integration and union with God?

Central to the heart of the Father is to beckon the boy forward through exploring these four questions and, through active exploration, to become as Jesus was: a man who grows in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man.

It is through engaging in a Vision Quest and completing our initiation that we become whole-hearted men.

The boy will become like Paul and Nehemiah and Joseph and Jesus Himself. In spite of unprecedented challenges, he will become like a few others who, in each age of human history, have become initiated men.

The boy will become the kind of man who can say,

How will you  respond to the Father’s leading and invite the boys in your home and redemptive community deeper into this Vision Quest?

We cannot offer what we have not become. Therefore, perhaps the more central question we must be asking is this:

How will you respond to the Father’s invitation to the boy within your own soul to be led by Him through the initiation process of your masculine soul?

Let an honest, interactive consideration of these four questions, over time, be a possible next step.

The choice is yours.

The world depends on it.

It’s always been so.

There is a way that is available. It’s an ancient path being rediscovered afresh in every generation.

God is perfectly capable of guiding you into initiation if this is what you want.

He is the initiator. And we are the ones invited, beckoned to respond to this wild love.

He is kind to wait for the question and desire for initiation to arise in the heart. He’s too kind to push. Instead, He waits, as Tozer says, to be wanted. Simultaneously, we can trust the particular pressures of both pleasure and pain in our stories to draw forth desire, for Love is determined to to see us all into full maturity (Ephesians 4:1-13).

Father, I want to be initiated.  

I want to become the kind of man who, like Paul, is able to proclaim in defiance of his enemies:

“I have learned to be content in whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret for being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want…”

“Now that I have gone through my initiation, I am ready for anything, anywhere.”

I invite You to lead me into what’s next in my initiation. And through my initiation, to become the kind of man who can shepherd the initiation of others.


I want to suggest that these four questions are the some of the most fundamental operation beliefs shaping our lives. The Good News is that they’re dynamic, and over time, our journey into them can align with Reality and mature into good soil and deep roots.

Here is a place to start. Pause here. Write down these four questions:

Who is God?

Who am I?

What is the story?

What is my frontier?

Let your life speak. Observe your internal world and your external actions over the last hour, the last day, and the last year. How would you begin to put words to these four questions, based on your observation? Notice the distinction between what you say you believe contrasted with the practical reality of what your life reveals about what you believe. Ask God what He wants to say to you in this place.

For those of you with sons, ask the Father how to lead you in allowing these questions serve as a central orientation for their process of initiation.


(1) James Finley offers this question in his teaching on centering prayer.

(2)  Times Magazine, “The Many Ways Society Makes a Man,” September 26, 2017

(3) Maasia-Association.org

(4) Adam’s Return, by Richard Rohr

 

Living on 15 Amps

We’d gathered back at the WilderLodge after a full day of typical family life. Joshua stood outside to the right of the front steps taking a leak, making a large arc and clearly preparing for the snow he hoped would soon fall. After emptying our week’s plumbing activity into a 28-gallon portable tank, I climbed the three metal floating steps. Abigail greeted me inside by opening her pockets to celebrate the day’s bounty: two single-serve ketchups, three mustards, and a Chick-fil-A sauce. Cherie followed with the exuberant announcement of the discovery of another dumpster where we might be able to stash a bag or two of trash.

I took it all in, smiling from ear to ear, and realized it was clear: After five months of trailer life, we had become a family joyfully living on 15 amps.

“Sell everything but the kids.”

Dave Ramsey’s invitation came to us 18 years ago through Financial Peace University. It was returning to me now. Then it was hopeful sentimentality; today it was a preposterous reality.

On a Friday afternoon last spring, we walked out of the closing, having sold the only house our kids have ever known and given away most of the “stuff” we’d accumulated over 17 years of life together. If it didn’t fit in a 10-by-20 storage unit, it had to be JoyCycled out of our story into the lives of another. In this moment, we were the proud owners—by our culture’s standards—of very little stuff. Beyond the WilderLodge (our 32-foot travel trailer boasting a full 198 square feet of living area on wheels) and a pair of old vehicles, we were more disentangled from the world than we had ever been.

In the words of an elder from ages past, we had reached a joyful high water mark in our story:

“Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other.” Romans 13:8

We found ourselves being led one small step further into the consecrated life St. Francis alluded to:

“Wear the world as a loose garment, which touches us in a few places and there lightly.” 

There we were. The four of us, allotted a duffel bag, a large bin, and a backpack apiece, embarking on a new Kingdom adventure.

Very little changed externally. Work, school, community, place, mission—all remained the same.

But what changed was simplifying. Simplifying our external to allow us more energy to consider some deeper matters of soul.

So we could slow down and listen.

Tuning in to Love’s energy as we transition from one season to another in the story of the life of our tribe.

Trading three-digit utility bills for 15-dollar propane refills and life on 15 amps.  

Dinners by a single candle.

Flower arrangements gleaned from the wild nearby, displaying their bounty in a tin cup shot glass.

Living on top of each other, all up in each other’s business in the very best way.

Required to be thoughtful about many things we took for granted, like every bit of water and electricity we choose to use.

It started on a bike ride, at a nondescript traffic light. I put the question out to my buddies: “What would you do if you were in our situation, in an ‘in between’ of sorts, and were needing a reboot of the soul?”

JD responded, half joking, I think, and half serious. “I’d buy an RV and move into it.”

As the light turned green and we began to pedal, he added, “Your kids will never forget.”

That second comment seized me. The Spirit breathed confirmation into my heart in that moment. I was beckoned with an invitation that reason and rationality couldn’t shake. That evening, I brought the invitation home to my wife and kids. I expected Cherie to be practical, to graciously shut it down. Instead, she responded with a beam of light in her eyes. “Let’s do it!” Prayerful confirmation followed, and within weeks we were responding with curiousity to the invitation.

The research and dreaming ensued. Three weeks later, Joshua and I hooked up 6100 pounds of beastmode to our trailer hitch. In that moment, as the hitch reset under the load a good eight inches below where it had proudly stood only moments before, I realized that a GMC Yukon is in fact a car masquerading as a truck. Talk about junk in my trunk—our trunk was several courageous inches from the ground and looking like a plumber under the sink in an undersized T-shirt. We used every tool and trick in the book to re-rig it. I wish you could’ve beheld the scene. The specs are right: technically, my light-duty truck with a 5.3-liter V8 and a 3.43:1 gear ratio should be able to safely tow 6100 pounds. Technically, that may very well be true. But even after installing a trailer brake and a secondary transmission cooler, it was a pathetically entertaining sight for onlookers. We held fast in the slow lane of I-25, hazards on, watching a Subaru Brat, a ’78 Daihatsu pickup, and several minivans from the mid ’80s cruise by with ease. The saving grace was coming upon an old-school hippie RV creeping along without a care in the world. A guy leftover from Woodstock, with dreadlocks and one foot out the window, smoking something joyful, gave us a smile as we inched past. We gave him a shout out and conveniently positioned the WilderLodge in front of him to avoid getting smashed from behind. It was the first and only time the WilderLodge has ever passed another vehicle on the highway.

It was a risk. Not just the driving, but the whole endeavor. It still is. But the rewards are pouring in like spring rain.

To watch my kids hook up the 28-gallon portable sewage tank and empty it as part of our weekend ritual. To learn the whole of a system, to take ownership over our use of and impact on the earth.

To enjoy my six-foot teenager crawling up into a bunk bed to share a space smaller than a walk-in closet with his little sister.

To convince ourselves the kids don’t know when we’re making out a full 18 feet away, rockin’ those stabilizers.

To wake up in a grove of ancient Ponderosa pine trees every morning.

To simplify.

To pause.

To risk.

To say no to the world. And yes to adventure.

To let life be a little bit simpler and a lot more messy.

To be uncomfortable in every soul-satisfying way, where God has to show up and affirm He is in the center of this story or it simply won’t work.

To listen.

To really listen in to His leading, His prompting, His invitation.

To take stock of the costs, the sacrifice—and still say yes.

To realize we really can do it.

And to know everything that really matters is portable. Turns out you can pack a whole lot of love into a tiny little camper.

It’s soul goodness.

And it is always available. Every moment of every day.

We are being chased after, the Scripture says. Yet more often than not, I’m moving too fast to provide Love the opportunity to catch me. I’m convinced more and more that His chasing after me is at a soul’s pace, not at the world’s pace.

Our Father wants life for us. Real life.

He wants the impossible to become possible in Him, through Him, and always in the context of us risking love. In the words of Gerald May,

Maturing in receiving Love.

Maturing in giving Love.

Maturing in drawing closer to the source of Love.

Onlookers of the WilderLodge might think we’ve become Catholics all over again. Liturgy is a regular part of our lives these days. But it is less about high holy days and more around the microwave and the hair dryer.

You see, both of these modern luxuries require 15 amps. And that’s all we’ve got these days. For perspective, find the electrical control panel for your home. Turn every breaker to “off” except one of the smallest on the panel—welcome to life in the WilderLodge.

Through this holy constraint, when Cherie turns on her hair dryer, the kids and I have no choice but to power down everything and sit and watch.

When the microwave fires up, that means all lights go off. And we sit and pause and watch the glow of our simple little life and a frozen burrito go round and round.

Last night I looked at my daughter in the glow of our single candle in an empty bottle of Crown Royal, decorated brilliantly by the flowing drips of five months of candle wax.

I thought of the tears Abigail had had at the first hint of discovering one day we might not be living in the WilderLodge any longer.

I sat back under the glow of the microwave’s light.

And my heart was full, so very full of God’s Kingdom.

I never thought my admiration would turn to Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation and possibly one of the best movie quotes of all time:

“Merry Christmas! Shitter’s full.”

And yet, with glee, here I am.

Maybe comfort, convenience, and efficiency aren’t what they’re all cracked up to be.

Maybe Life is beckoning us in the least likely places.

Maybe it’s time to take a new risk.

To dare greatly.

Today we’re living on 15 amps.

Stashing trash.

Hoarding single-serve sauces.

Occasionally arcing it off the front steps.

And through God and His Kingdom in it, our hearts are being made a little more whole and a little more happy one day at a time.

Almost 18 years ago, we were led to offer this prayer from Sir Francis Drake, in the final page of our wedding program with friends and family.

Little did I know, nearly two decades later, that the words would become flesh and dwell among us, all in the context of the WilderLodge and this reminder:

Love never gives up.

Love never loses faith.

Love is always hopeful.

Love endures through every circumstance.

And Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13)

It was our prayer on our wedding day for friends near and far. And as we arise today in the WilderLodge and this risky and Love-saturated adventure, it is my prayer for you.

“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life, 
having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity, 
and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas, 
where storms will show your mastery, 
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. 
We ask you to push back the horizon of our hopes, 
and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love. 
This we ask in the name of our Captain, who is Jesus Christ. ”

Strength and Honor,
Morgan

 


 

Living on 15 Amps is dedicated to our friends, heroes, and adoptive parents, Ken and Kaye at Waage Woods, who graciously welcomed the WilderLodge and its four squatters onto their land and into the Deep Magic of the Ponderosa pine grove in Black Forest, Colorado. We are beyond grateful and pledge to bear fruit from the seeds of love you have sown into our lives.

#032: One Giant Leap for Mankind – A Conversation with Brad Beck [podcast]

The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited.

– Neil Armstrong, NASA astronaut


Podcast: Subscribe in iTunes | Play in new window | Download


Brad Beck has spent a lifetime offering strength in a myriad of roles in countless missions. As a flight surgeon in a supersonic jet for NASA, a crew member in international theater performance with YWAM, a physician in private practice, a coach of high school football, and a co-leader of men’s missions with Ransomed Heart around the globe, Brad has left his fingerprints on the lives of many and much.

Yet none of these powerful roles inspire the breadth of redemptive pause as his role of Dad and his path of loving his family, particularly loving a special needs child through her short years in this world and gently and lovingly into the next.

Join me in a podcast that will surely lead us back to the Narrow Road.

Recently we featured Brad and his wife, Lisa, in a beautiful short film that echoes the story of hope infused in John’s most recent book, All Things New.

As a complement to this interview, I strongly encourage you to check out the film as well as All Things New.

Click to Listen

Play

Hunting to Train

“Wilderness adventure is like reading a good book [a page and] a chapter at a time. The last page is usually pretty good because you’ve read the whole book.” –Tavis Molnar  (Arctic Red Outfitters)

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” –Theodore Roosevelt


The sweat drips off the brim of my hat, joining the drops of rain that have steadily quickened over the last few minutes. A thunderstorm threatens in the foothills to our west, just above the sole surviving fire watchtower in Colorado—a relic from another era. I have three more ascents to go to hit today’s training target. For a moment, I choose to ignore the pain. A sort of happiness is welling up that is hard to put to words. It’s a common joy known to all who have consented to a path of intense physical challenge for the sake of a greater goal and—even more—a greater good.

I’m near the top of another trek up The Grinder, the name we’ve affectionately given to the rough steps cut in the side of a no-name foothill in the Colorado Rockies, hewn from railroad ties and composite granite. It has the winsome feel of a project leftover from the Conservation Corps with a forgotten story of its own. For years, I thought of counting the number of steps, but the breathlessness of the second half always seemed to keep me from an accurate number. Today my budding teenage son (who started training with me this summer) passes me again and calls out with a grin, “Dad, I have the count at 326 steps.”

I know the climb and descent would be more manageable without the 50-pound pack on my back. But I’m not training to throw candy in the next Fourth of July parade (though I thoroughly enjoyed doing so last month). I’m training for a backcountry fair-chase bow hunt in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. And if we harvest a mule deer in the alpine, as we hope to, we’ll surely spend more energy than I am today hauling loads of meat to civilization.

Though the hunting season is short, the training is a year-round pursuit. At the end, there is no audience or finish-line crowd to celebrate this endeavor. And in training, there is no witness along the countless lonely miles. There is often not even meat in the freezer to testify to the agony and delight.

But I have never known any physical and mental and soulful challenge more alluring and satisfying.

It’s been said consistently by mentors that 90 percent of wild game animals are harvested by 10 percent of the hunters.

I’ve come to know that statistic painfully well: it speaks to years of initiation and fathering—learning mostly through failure, often harvesting great stories but seldom meat.

For years along this path, I pondered this question: What does it take to move from the 90 percent of public land bowhunters to the 10 percent who (on average) successfully harvest most of the game? And slowly but surely, our Father has been illuminating the way.


Today is sabbath, and it is with savory delight that I pull out my bow and hunting bins, methodically taking inventory of the condition and status of my gear, weapon, arrows, and broadheads. I recondition my release with a concoction invented by smokejumpers to protect their leather boots. I massage a fresh coat of wax into my bow strings. I assess every arrow, checking broadhead, shaft, and knock. It’s all part of the liturgy of July and a place of intimacy with the Father, in the hopes of treading the path to becoming the 10 percent.

Archery season is approaching quickly, and I’ve not invested as much as I’d hoped to, given the season of life. But I’ve invested enough to take one more step along the narrow road of becoming. The evenings grow a bit cooler in this late summer season, and I feel the anticipation of chasing wild wax larger inside my soul with each passing day.

Today’s act of preparation is a velcro for hope. As my body goes through the motions of locking on a target and drawing my bow, my soul remembers and faithfully engages more than 15 years of knowing distilled from trial by fire, matured through success and failure. The fear that I haven’t done enough to prepare lurks on the edges of this knowing. Yet I’ve learned that it’s in this place on the edge of fear that I must turn to the Father for orientation. Once again, I am reassured of His presence and His pleasure. Even more, I sense His enjoyment of us as His sons who have consented to the slow and steady process of becoming.

I pause to take stock of five fundamental ideas that form the bedrock of my training toward the 10 percent. These five ideas expressed in the context of hunting also reflect the perennial truths of masculine initiation:

Do something every day
In both this season and this culture of unending demands, there still exists a narrow path into the 10 percent: I choose to
do something every day to draw closer to my objective. If my vision is to live with integrity in my relationships and not sacrifice my marriage, my children, and more at the altar of success in my passion, the pursuit of craft quickly becomes complex and, at times, overwhelming. Therefore, consenting to doing something every day proves to be the ascending path toward mastery and joy. In archery hunting, this might be as small and simple as investigating a new map, reading an article, trying a new workout, flinging a dozen arrows, or working through a solution to the problem we ran into the field last attempt. This long obedience in the same direction (to borrow Eugene Peterson’s phrase) also echoes the essence of Warren Buffet’s central strategy for investment: consistent investment over time with moderate returns yields exponential results. If we are committed to join the 10 percent and harvest the exponential results, we find that doing something every day is a proven strategy.

Time in the Woods
I’ve often heard that some of the most important scouting is done with maps on a computer. Thanks to incredible apps like On X Hunt and robust information online, that is
partially true. But there will never be a substitute for boots on the ground on the particular land on which you intend to hunt, close to the time in which you intend to hunt it. On a scouting trip this summer, we found ourselves above treeline at 13,130. It provided data, confirming local animal populations and patterns that cannot be gleaned anywhere but through direct observation. Even more, it provided a knowing of—the Hebrew writers use the word yada, which implies an intimate and experiential heart knowledge. The former is mere proposition; the second is poetry. We were surprised to find an abundance of fresh mountain goat sign but little evidence of deer using the remote alpine drainage as we’d expected. All of this experiential knowledge, combined with research, will become essential in our next archery pursuit. Whether it’s making sausage, painting, or scouting a hunting area, there is no substitute for experiential knowledge. While the world advertises shortcuts at every turn, real bodily experience over time is essential for the initiation and integration of the masculine soul. We learn by doing. Throw yourself in. There is no substitute for the “slow and steady” of time to do its work in us. Jesus’ words are a good, soulful reminder: “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God—is vigorous and requires total attention.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Choose your hunting companions with wisdom and care
Who you hunt with will shape your experience more than any other variable. I hunt with men who want what I want and value what I value. Men who contend fiercely for joy. Men who love the animals, the land, and the chase more than any outcome. Men who’ve consented to the steady work of preparation. Men who have given their hearts to the pursuit, who courageously submit self-interest to the collective good of the shared mission. Men who see the particular adventure in the context of the greater story and our role in it as husbands, fathers, and friends.

Humility
Ask questions of those who have gone before you. Consent to the wisdom of elders. Study. Learn. Listen (which starts by being present and being quiet). Over 15 years ago, I walked into the local bow shop and confessed to the resident pro, “I don’t even know what I don’t even know. But I want to become a bowhunter. Where do I start?” He proceeded to tell me a winsome and evocative story of how he entered the world of bowhunting by watching his uncles come home with elk meat from rifle hunts and how, in elementary school, he packed lunch every day so he could save his lunch money to put toward a bow. He finished with this advice: “Keep the wind in your face, the sun on your back, and find the joy.” This single piece of counsel has guided me more than any other in over 15 years. I have pages and pages of notes from asking question after question of anyone who has gone before me who knows something about archery hunting, the animals, or the land. Humility starts with acknowledging your lack and consenting to being led deeper along the frontier of the masculine soul.

Surrender outcomes
The brilliance and utter frustration is the futility of the odds. Seeking to harvest with bow on public land is a statistically absurd way to procure meat for the family. Statistically, you’re almost assured of failure. But that’s why we do it. It’s those sort of odds that create the best context for initiation and maturing in sonship. It’s those kind of odds that forge the best friendships. It’s the harvest that fuels every step of the way. But at the end of the day, the desire must be rooted in something far deeper than the harvest. Otherwise, compromises of relational integrity and personal ethics are bound to attend.

Remember the brilliant words of North Face founder and elder of adventure Yvon Chouinard. He talked of high-powered executives climbing Mt. Everest, showing up to basecamp with all the fix ropes and ladders already laid out for them by sherpas, chocolates placed on their pillows.

“Taking a trip for six months to get in the rhythm of it. It feels like you can go on forever doing that. Climbing Everest is the ultimate and the opposite of that. Because you get these high powered plastic surgeons and CEOs, they pay $80,000 and have sherpas put the ladders in place and 8000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on the top. The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”

We must become the kind of men who can let go of harvest as the ultimate definition of success. We must hunt for great stories before we hunt for trophy racks or even the procurement of meat. We must become the kind of people who have developed a far more robust and life-giving definition of success in the field than an animal on the wall or in the freezer.

How will you define success? I’ve learned that the greatest harvest on any hunt is always a great story. “Success” becomes an intention of my masculine soul on becoming the kind of person who not only moves toward the 10 percent but becomes a more wholehearted man through the process.

It’s all metaphor
As with the most meaningful stories of our life, the narrative of bowhunting borrows its power from the central story of Reality. The real story is not about the hunt or the meat that will one day be gone. The day will come when my legs and lungs won’t be able to endure the crazy exploits we now pursue. It’s only in choosing to interpret chasing wild in the context of the larger whole that it can take on the quality of eternity for which it was intended since the beginning.

Today I have to dig deep. As my body ages, my son and the joy and levity in his step is the Father’s provision to keep going. He beats me to the top. My body has had enough, and my mind is threatening to abort mission. But my heart knows I’ve got at least another one in me.

I pause at the top of this mountain, as I do as liturgy on the final ascent of every workout. I breathe and take in the beauty, knowing that today, this very moment, is the real gift I seek. I ask the Father what He has to say today. And I am reminded, perhaps for the first time in nearly two decades of training to hunt, that something has permanently shifted in my soul.

 

I used to train to hunt. Now I mostly hunt to train.  

It is more than hunting I’m training for. I’m slowly becoming the kind of person who recognizes that a context for training is essential to continue to grow into the man I long to be in spirit, soul, mind, and body. My training leads my masculine soul along the outermost edge of its frontier—it is in this soul geography that the masculine heart thrives. I’m training for loving my bride today and for decades to come. I’m training to raise my children into vibrant, wholehearted lifetime learners and lovers. I’m training to become a better friend. And I’m training to grow in my capacity to serve with the heart of a king. I realize the gift of training toward the 10 percent has forged in me a lifestyle of becoming that produces more life, more joy, and more fruit than any other lifestyle I can imagine.

I’ve sacrificed time, money, energy, and more to fight for this hunt and—even more—this way of living. Soon I will be off the grid again, deep in the high country. If it’s like many former escapades, we will be contending with all manner of Nature’s glorious fury—her wonderful danger, unyielding demand, and relentless joy.

Like the seep of a mountain spring, the anticipation of camaraderie, of suffering and exuberance, of defeat and triumph fuels my anticipation. I close my eyes to imagine experiencing once more the text that nature renders at the crescendo of summer’s brilliance and autumn’s foray. I anticipate the rare experience of being saturated by beauty and immersed in the canvas of the greatest Artist and the One I truly seek.

That immersion in the beauty and expanse of God through wilderness is worth the pain. It is for joy that we too endure every cross, big and small.

It orients my masculine soul yet again to things good and true and beautiful, dissolving my misplaced desire for less wild lovers that simply cannot provide the life I seek.

It aligns my heart and my strength toward God and His kingdom and His brilliance as the master Craftsman behind and in all things.

It is here I find myself, finally cresting The Grinder one last time, at least for today. My son has lapped me again, and catches up.

Both of us, another rock in hand, walk over to the cairn that started years ago as a single stone and now has become a memorial that kindly reminds us this isn’t our first rodeo. We set our rocks on the cairn and momentarily enjoy this beacon for becoming which greets us at the top of every ascent.

This year’s mission is to find ourselves deep in wild, above timberline, close enought to witness the flicker of the ear of a mule deer. And, God willing, to release an arrow and put fantastic meat on the table.

Even more, it is the story we chase that forges the souls of men.

I used to train to hunt.

Now I hunt to train.

The Father is always offering a doorway through which we can follow Him into the recovery of the ancient path where we might become the kind of hunter—the kind of man—who finds himself among the 10 percent.

What are you training for?

What is the fruit of that training in your life and in your relationships?

What is frontier for you today and in this decade in your training?


Father, You have things to whisper to our interior places of deep ache and longing. We sense that when we choose against the hurry and instead choose to pause, be still, and tune in to Your voice, we will hear Your voice and experience Your heart for us. We will see You, greater and stronger than our enemies. What is it You are inviting me to train for, and how do you want to lead me into more life in the pursuit? You have my yes and my heart. Lead me further along the narrow road…

A Few, and Those Very Deeply

A young apprentice once asked Dallas Willard,

“What books do you recommend reading?”

Dallas, after a long pause (there is always a long pause with Dallas), responded,

“I recommend a few. And to read those very deeply.”

The refreshing counsel of a sage.

We are all immersed in a culture bombarding us with content. Some of it very good content.  Perhaps to truly nourish our souls, it is not only good content we need, but less of it, and that content to be ingested, savored, considered very slowly and deeply.

As an apprentice in the ways of God’s Kingdom, I am a voracious reader and learner. But I also sense one of my Kingdom assignments is to curate and distill soul-centered content from far and wide, from which the hungry few might feast and be strengthened.

Part of that process, I believe, is to regularly recommend a few of the books I’ve dived into, pondered, and been deeply challenged and nourished by.

Particularly in the summer season, I make it a regular spiritual practice to pause more, linger more in a good reading of great books. Here are several for your consideration:

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (unabridged)

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean—the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread—Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose.

Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier, and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope—an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.”

At 1466 pages, contending with its length is not for the faint of heart. But this brilliant novel is worth its weight in gold, truly unparalleled. The transcendent narrative plunges into the depths of the human soul. To see evil and goodness warring for the souls of men; to glimpse the heart of a good king, of a good father; to watch redemption in the face of personal and unspeakable evil; to be reminded what God is really like—it could save our souls.

A few quotes:

“He did not study God. He was dazzled by Him.”

“In passing we might say success is a hideous thing. Its false similarity to merit deceives men. To the masses, success has almost the same appearance as supremacy. Success, that pretender to talent has a dupe—history.”

“Can human nature be so entirely transformed inside and out? Can man, created good by God, be made wicked by man? Can the soul be completely changed by its destiny, and turn evil when its fate is evil? Can the heart become distorted, contract deformities and incurable infirmities, under the pressure of disproportionate grief, like the spinal column under a low ceiling? Is there not in every human soul—was there not particularly in Jean Valjean’s soul—a primitive spark, a divine element, incorruptible in this world and immortal in the next, which can be developed by goodness, kindles, lit up and made to radiate, and which evil can never entirely extinguish?”

“There are men who work for the extraction of gold; he worked for the extraction of pity. The misery of the universe was his mine. Grief everywhere was only an occasion for good always. Love one another. He declared that to be complete; he desired nothing more, and it was his whole doctrine.”


American Buffalo by Steven Rinella

“Steven Rinella won a lottery permit to hunt for a wild buffalo in the Alaskan wilderness. In a book that combines adventure with a quirky blend of facts and observations about history and the natural world, Rinella takes us across the continent—from the Bering Land Bridge, where scientists search for buffalo bones amid artifacts of the New World’s earliest human inhabitants, to buffalo jumps where Native Americans once ran animals over cliffs by the thousands. A captivating narrative of environmental and historical significance, Rinella’s tale is a fascinating examination of an animal that has haunted the American imagination for centuries.”

A few quotes:

“[We must be clear between when we are] being sold the illusion of something rather than the thing itself.”

“At once [the buffalo] is a symbol of the tenacity of wilderness and the destruction of wilderness; its a symbol of Native American culture and the death of Native American culture; its a symbol of the strength and vitality of America and the pettiness and greed of America; it represents a frontier both forgotten and remembered; it stands for freedom and captivity, extinction and salvation.”


Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Good Kings come in all shapes in sizes. The story of Jayber Crow is an intensely thought-provoking and enticing story that will challenge the soul of a man if he is willing to take the risk.

“Jayber Crow, born in Goforth, Kentucky, orphaned at age ten, began his search as a pre-ministerial student at Pigeonville College. There, freedom met with new burdens and a young man needed more than a mirror to find himself. But the beginning of that finding was a short conversation with Old Grit, his profound professor of New Testament Greek:


You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out—perhaps a little at a time.

And how long is that going to take?

I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.

That could be a long time.

I will tell you a further mystery, he said. It may take longer.

Eventually, after the flood of 1937, Jayber becomes the barber of the small community of Port William, Kentucky. From behind that barber chair he lives out the questions that drove him from seminary and begins to accept the gifts of community that enclose his answers. The chair gives him a perfect perch from which to listen, to talk, and to see, as life spends itself all around. In this novel full of remarkable characters, he tells his story that becomes the story of his town and its transcendent membership.”

A few quotes:

“As I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here. Well, you can read and see what you think.”

“To love anything good, at any cost, is a bargain.”

“Faith is not necessarily, or not soon, a resting place. Faith puts you out on a wide river in a boat, in the fog, in the dark.”


Adam’s Return by Richard Rohr

Much has been written on masculinity. Yet few other resources have helped to shape me more and to help me identify the core essence of what God is inviting me to shepherd in the initiation of my son into manhood. The Father has used this book to allow hope to rise in seeing how I am being initiated alongside my son, both of us recovering lost treasures and becoming men who, like Paul, can one day say with confidence, “Now that I have been through my initiation, I am ready for anything, anywhere.”

A few quotes:

“In the larger-than-life people I have met, I always find one common denominator; in some sense, they have all died before they have died. At some point, they were led to the edge of their private resources, and that breakdown, which surely felt like dying, led them into a larger life…Instead of avoiding a personal death or raging at it, they went through a death, a death of their old self, their small life, and came out the other side knowing that death could no longer hurt them.”

“For some reason young bull elephants were acting strangely out of character—antisocial and aimlessly violent; they were stomping on VWs, pushing over trees for no reason, and even killing other small animals and baby elephants. Park rangers came in to study the problem and, in the course of their investigation, they discovered that there were no older bull elephants in that area…They brought in some older bull elephants…Things soon turned to normal once the elders started operating as elders.”


The Native Americans An Illustrated History

It has been said that one of the most effective ways to prepare for the future is to become a student of the past. Did you know there were over 2000 languages spoken in America before a white person ever entered the land?

“Dispossessed of their ancestral homelands by successive invasions of Europeans, the first real Americans have long been cloaked in a veil of myth and legend that has hidden from us the true richness and diversity of Indian civilizations and cultures. This newly unfolding legacy represents an unparalleled body of untapped wisdom, which even now provides fresh perspective on modern problems. The astonishing reality of Indian history, presented here for the first time from the perspective of native Americans, will deepen our understanding of what it really means to be an American.”  

Presented in this great work from the perspective of the native American, it contains a vast treasure chest of insight which serves to shape, mature and integrate the masculine soul.

“[Spirituality] pervaded all of life and provided a sense of context. Everything in the world had its spiritual component and every action had to be accompanied by proper ritual. It was not enough to accept a new plant or artifact; one had to know the exact ritual that applied to its special characteristics in order to be able to use it effectively… The ritually established connections of crops to the larger cosmos of seasonal cycles changed their way of life, but it was a [spiritual] rather than agricultural development.”


Essentialism by Greg McKeown

“The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.  It is not  a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter…

Essentialism is not one more thing – it’s a whole new way of doing everything. A must-read for any leader, manager, or individual who wants to do less, but better, and declutter and organize their own their lives, Essentialism is a movement whose time has come.

A few quotes:

“Basic value proposition of Essentialism – Only when you give yourself permission to stop doing it all, stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution toward the things that really matter.”

“The way of the essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better.”

 


 

Enjoy…

For earlier recommendations go to the Books section in Dig Deeper

 

 

She Has My Delight

It all started with one shimmering pair of pink cowgirl boots.

My then two-year-old princess, clothed in her leotard, would tug them on with a grin, then twirl with delight. And melt this daddy-heart of mine.

A tradition began, inspired by a row of cowgirl boots I’d seen in the home of a mentor years before. Each Valentine’s Day, my Abigail and I now head out on a date for her to select a new pair of cowgirl boots for the year. This last trip, I shared with her my request that when the day comes for her to leave our nest, she is welcome to take with her all the pairs that still fit. But the ones she has outgrown—those she’ll leave for me so that I might savor the years long passed, treasuring our memories of daddy and daughter in my heart. To relish with both ache and longing the reminder C.S. Lewis offers to us parents:

“Children are not a distraction from work. They are the most important work.”

Today there are already more outgrown cowgirl boots on the shelf than my heart can readily bear.

As a wise elder once said,

The days are long, but the years are short.

Never has a truer word been spoken.

It’s been said we only become the fathers we long to be by fathering. In the wise words of Dan Allender, it’s children, after all, who raise parents.

I’m not yet the father I long to be. But I am the father she has today. And I choose to be here.

On this day, I still have her. She is nearly 10, and radiant. Brimming with life, beauty, wonder, questions, and emerging shoots of wisdom set to burst forth.

Several months ago, Abigail confided in Cherie that she wanted a “promise ring.” We are still not sure whence the inspiration came to her. Though I too had a ring in mind, my original intention was for this day to wait a few years. But I have learned too slowly,

“Many are the plans in the heart of a man. But is is the purposes of God that prevail.” Proverbs 19:21

To be a student of her heart is one of the great invitations and sacred trusts of my life, and the life of every dad.

Her heart is now asking deeper questions, wondering deeper things about the heart of her dad and the heart of her Father in Heaven. So this day has come upon me. And I choose again to roll the dice of parenting and venture along the frontier of mystery and risk. Perhaps, in the words of Roosevelt, I may fail as I often do—but at least I will fail by daring greatly.

Father, come.

What is the promise this ring is intended by Heaven to signify? I have heard of girls who are given a “purity ring” when they come of age. A ring that seems to carry a sense of their pledge to keep themselves sexually pure until they are married.

But that is not the ring I have in mind for Abigail.

The ring that I want to bestow upon her is not an effort to make her promise something to me. Rather, I want to give her a ring that would communicate my promise to her. What am I promising? After prayer and inquiring of my wife’s wisdom born of the decades, I sensed this was my promise:

I choose to never, ever revoke my delight in her.

No matter what. I will not conditionally wield my delight in an effort to conform her choices to my will. No, I offer her my delight and extend to her a sacred place in my heart without condition. I promise that my favor and delight will always be hers.

The day came for me to present this ring to her. And as I looked into her not-yet-10-year-old eyes, I glimpsed a flash of future moments reflecting back to me. I felt warm tears on my face. Then, with the rush of whitewater rapids, the scenes cascaded through my imagination:

The first was her driving away in a car with a young man I barely knew, heading off to a school dance.

The next was an aisle at a wedding. Her wedding…and an aisle the end of which I never wanted to come.

Then I saw her at my bedside. I was an old man. She was radiant, the splendor of her maturity altogether lovely, offering me care beyond words.

I was nearly overwhelmed by the emotion of these unexpected glimpses around the bend of time. I did everything to come back to the present moment. Storing these up as treasures in my heart, I endeavored to simply offer the portion that was for this moment on this day.

Abigail, this ring is the symbol of my promise and devotion.

You are the delight of my heart,

and I promise that I will never withdraw my delight from you.

Nothing you do or don’t do,

nothing you say or don’t say

will ever justify me withdrawing my delight from you

or closing my heart to you.

With this ring, I give you the promise of my delight.

You are the delight of your father’s heart.

And with this ring, I give you permission and invitation.

I invite you to tell me if you ever experience me withdrawing my delight.

I promise to listen to you and to respond.

It is my hope that God will one day provide a husband for you who will nourish and cultivate your feminine heart in all its depth and wonder.

Yet today this is my promise:

With my sword and my strength,

I am with you to the very end.

I will always protect and always provide.

You are safe.

You are loved.

You are known.

And you will never be alone.

You are the delight of your daddy’s heart.

Though my flesh and my heart at times will fail,

Our Father will always be the strength of our hearts and our portion forever.

May this ring be to you a symbol of my enduring delight and the place you have in my heart that is yours and yours alone.

And with it, I pledge to always point you to our Father, who is the Father of us all.

May you experience Him chasing after you.

He has you, Abigail.

Your soul will always be safe in Him.

Boots and Ring-4

Hours later, I came into the house from a project in the garage to find her at her art table, creating another piece of beauty. I caught a sparkle from her ring in the afternoon light. Its shimmer compelled me upstairs to her childhood room to look at her collection of outgrown boots yet again.

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I felt the paradox of grief of years lost and the hope of what time I do have. I consecrated my life to God again, quietly and simply, as a daddy. And I asked Him to lead me, as if He were me, living my life. Asked His life to flow into me and through me to my daughter’s heart.

On this day and in this decade, I ask you, Father, would you guide me in bringing Your heart as Father to the heart of my little girl?

Father, I confess how often I blow it as a dad.  Father, I ask that where I lack maturity I might excel in affection and pursuit of her heart. I am deeply in need of growing as a student of her heart. Cultivate in me an increasing capacity to see her as You see her, to delight in her. Father, apprentice me to become the kind of father who is no longer capable of withdrawing my delight.

So that she might receive time and time again the miracle of validation—the gift of being known and received for who she truly is.

So that through me she might know You as Father, and in every circumstance, find rest and restoration for her vast and ever-expanding feminine soul.

Through my pursuit and my delight, by day and by decade, may her heart grow to know,

“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring to a flourishing finish on the very day God appears again in his fullness…” (Philippians 1:6 MSG)

Abigail, may you and every daughter be able to say, from the depths of your being, far deeper than words,

I am the daughter of a King.

My Father is with me

And goes before me.

I will not fear.

Because

I am His.

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We are not yet who we will one day become. Yet we are the fathers they have today.

What will you do to communicate, to model your unconditional delight in your daughter?

What will you do to become the kind of father in a decade who offers even deeper delight to your daughter?


Justin – A special thanks to you for making these pictures possible. You capture soul with your camera and work in the unseen spaces in the lives of so many to bring light into darkness and to give voice to the sacred in all things. Thanks for your strength. It’s changing the world…