Stranded with Flip Flops – A Case for a Generalist

Grizzly Adams and His Tow Truck

It was a divine disruption I didn’t have time for.  And it changed my life, forever.

This unexpected encounter began over a blown-out tire on the way home from an early Ransomed Heart event. At the time, one of my buddies directed the resource center and I directed the retreat. We were two of three men on duty to help Stasi and her team as they offered a retreat to hundreds of women.

It was Sunday afternoon, and the hard work was done—or so we thought. We pointed the truck and U-Haul trailer full of a few pallets of supplies toward the long descent out of the Collegiate peaks.

Within ten minutes, our years of overloading the trailer finally caught up with us, and we blew a tire.  We were miles away from even the smallest mountain town. It was a Sunday afternoon.

And my buddy was wearing flip flops.

So we did what every other castrated sort-of-man is trained to do:

Call 1-800-UHAUL and wait.  

For hours.

And hours. It was a Sunday afternoon thick in the Colorado Rockies.  And far from any outside aid.

It was literally five hours before our helpline answer showed up in the form of a 265-pound mountain man with grizzly bear paws for hands.  Grizzly Adams is the only name I could come up with that could do justice to this sequoia of masculinity.  He was strong and weathered and looked as if he could brave just about anything this cold, dark world might throw his way. In fact, he was so solid it was hard to tell where he stopped and his truck began.

Grizzly Adams 1.1

We stood back, impotently observing, as he pulled out the spare and jacked up the trailer.  Quickly it went from bad to worse (for us, not him)  as he realized that he had the right size tire but the wheel it was mounted on had a different lug nut pattern than the one required for our trailer. I thought, “Now we’re really screwed.  Who do you call when Grizzly Adams can’t deliver?”

Oh, how I was mistaken.

With a generalist, the answer is never “Call an expert.”

You are the solution. God in you.

That’s what Immanuel meant before it was hijacked by Hallmark and children’s Christmas pageants.  God, with us.  God, in us.  In God, you’re enough. You’re essential.

It’s this essential connection with God that Paul was urging when he exhorted us to live daily lives that win the respect of some and keep us from faithless dependency on others (1 Thessalonians 4).  He’s not talking about independence or self-sufficiency.  He’s talking about becoming someone solid, substantive, rooted in the God who is our life and guide.

He’s talking about wholehearted masculinity.  God-sufficiency. He’s suggesting that when our masculine heart is rooted and established in God, it is enough. It is always enough.

Grizzly Adams began his work to remove the new tire from the mismatched wheel and pull the old tire off the old wheel.  Far from his shop with the right tools, he used what he had to improvise.  He was exercising fierce mastery over his domain.

At this point something shifted. As destiny would have it, what looked simple turned out to be a three man job.  My buddy (still in flip flops) and I went from bewildered bystanders to neophyte wrench men. As the weather turned, the winds whipping and snow beginning to fall, we removed the old wire bead and got the new tire on the old wheel.  It wasn’t an easy task. But Old Grizzly had put in his 10,000 hours.  And more.  What was an impasse to us was a minor pothole to him. Finally, it came time to seal the tire.  I thought, there is no way to get an air tight seal out here in the field without proper tools. We’re still screwed.

Not old Grizz. A generalist always looks for the next solution.  There’s always another way.  The solution is within him and needs to be lived out.  This wasn’t Grizzly’s first pony ride.  Maybe the first one next to a guy wearing flip flops, and another guy smelling like perfume from all the hugs at the end of a women’s retreat.  But not his first time to solve the problem at hand.

He reached deep in the utility boxes, pulling out tool after tool, part after part, until he finally got to his next solution: the bucket.

Old Grizz cracked the lid and put both hands deep inside a bucket of axle grease and started massaging the bead on the tire like he was back in Acapulco on that spring break trip senior year.  I stood in awe. In a moment this rugged mountain man worked his hands on that tire like he was Michelangelo forming the sculpture of David.

My incredulity exposed how shallow my list of solutions to any problem really is before I default to “outsource.”  Sound familiar?

But Grizzly was rooted in something I wasn’t. There was no one and nothing to back him up.  He’s a man who’s been trained by fire, fathered by older mechanics, and taught the ways of repair in the wild.  He never hesitated, even against seeming failure and roadblock.  He moved to the next solution.  He embraced a world of “ish.”

It was expertise in the most elemental form.

Six hours after we heard our tire explode and watched rubber shrapnel in the rear view mirror, the wheel was on the trailer and we were pointed east once more.

But we were different men: something was repaired, and not just the tire.

Something in us.

Something deep.

Everlasting Stream

One of the most supreme books on masculinity (and on fathering and initiating boys) I’ve ever read is Walt Herrington’s classic, Everlasting Stream.  If you’ve not read this, it is a must for your library.  Walt was born the son of a working-class milkman.  He climbed the ranks of society, became an elite journalist for the Washington Post, and spent time with the world’s most powerful and influential people. Yet listen to Walt’s description of the way he viewed his professional accomplishments from his father’s perspective, and what Walt himself longed for as he entered fatherhood:

 It took my father time to feel proud that I was a journalist.  I mean, I didn’t even know how to replace my own car muffler.  When I came to own a house, I wasted money on plumbers to fix leaky faucets and electricians to repair broken light switches. I hired a nursery to lay down the landscaping and a gardener to trim and tidy it all up twice a year.  Even if he could have afforded it, my father would never have ceded so much mastery of his world over to hired hands. But I had done what young men in America are supposed to do. I had risen in society. I had eaten dinner with the President of the United States.  Funny, but despite all my social ascents, my simple and deepest hope came to be that I could teach (my son) some of what my father had taught me about being a man.

The phrase that catches my heart most deeply is this:

Even if he could have afforded it, my father would never have ceded so much mastery of his world over to hired hands.

Walt’s father was convinced there was value in maintaining mastery, in knowing how to tend to the aspects of his domain. In fact this innate knowledge and skill was worth more to him than the number of zeros on his annual income or the “who’s who” of society.  Even if he had unlimited funds to hire others to take care of his domain, Walt’s father wouldn’t have done it because he valued something else more.

This something is being what I’ve come to call “a generalist.”

I know something of Walt’s story.  For years I felt the ache of growing up in a family culture that had “ceded” much mastery to “hired hands.”  And only in the last two decades have I taken the steps on the same journey that Walt took as well: reclaiming what was lost in my masculinity through the try-and-fail, risk-and-explore, prioritizing-learning-over-success path of becoming a generalist.

My grandfather was a scrap man.  He drove an old truck and knew how to survive by squeezing a few bucks out of scrapping society’s leftovers.  Finally he got his break and became a tile man, only to declare bankruptcy a few years later; he never fully recovered. While he made a good go of it, he lived his last several decades financially subsidized by my dad.

My dad, like Walt, rose the ranks of society; he became an esteemed surgeon and a hero in our small community.

I was the son, looking for my place in the world.

My dad worked hard (and still does), harder than anyone I’ve ever met, longer hours than anyone I’ve known. Yet through the arrows he took in his youth, he held on to this message: “I am worthy of love if I provide for my family.”  While most people rested a little on Sundays, he would be making rounds at the hospital.  When others went out with friends for evening cocktails, he refrained, always on call with his pager in his holster. When I was young, he worked seven days a week for fifty-one weeks a year, taking one week of vacation in the summer.

The respect and admiration I have for my dad and all his sacrifices are inexhaustible. I love this man with all my heart and I love his heart for me.

And still, there was an unspoken cost.

Similar to Walt, we lived a lifestyle where much of what was required of a man was outsourced. When the toilet broke, we called a plumber.  When the heater broke, we called a furnace guy.  A roofer cleaned the gutters.  Mechanics kept the cars running, and accountants took care of the taxes.

Above the waterline, I was living large, gaining huge accolades in leadership and business; yet deep inside of me, my masculinity atrophied and insecurity and anxiety filled the void. Years on the calendar didn’t mature the boy inside into manhood.  I knew that I literally did not have what it takes to engage a world of presenting problems with confidence, skill, and strength. On some level, I felt more like a gelding than a man.

In essence, I was completely uninitiated in the world of a “man and a knife” and disconnected from the image of God in me as a generalist. Funny, I had a whole treasure box of pocket knives on my window sill. But I never really learned what to do with them. (If you haven’t yet, be sure to read Castration – A Case for Carrying a Knife.)

Becoming Good Soil

I want to suggest that one of the central story lines of an intentional decade of Becoming Good Soil is the recovery of the image of God in us as men, in the way of a generalist.

The world loves to diagnose and champion the pursuit of our unique calling, vocation, gifting, and contribution to the world.  In other words, developing specialists.

But what if, before we can ever walk out the particular expression of God in us, we must first walk out the general expression of God in us?

We bear the image of God, as men.  Being a generalist is the essential foundation upon which we then become wholehearted specialists.

What we share in common and become in common is more important than our unique expression of strength and love—the footers and the concrete slab upon which we build the house. And as Lewis points out in Mere Christianity,

There are lots of nice things you can do with sand; but don’t try building a house on it.

To outsource fundamental pillars of our masculinity is to surrender the very foundation of our self, and the building blocks upon which we were intended to lead and to love.

In Wild at Heart, John brilliantly gets to the core of the idea of recovering the generalist with the help of Garrison Keillor:

Keillor wrote a very funny essay in The Book of Guys. Realizing one day that he was not being honest about himself as a man, he sat down to make a list of his strengths and weaknesses:

USEFUL THINGS I CAN DO:

Be nice.

Make a bed.

Dig a hole.

Write books.

Sing alto or bass.

Read a map.

Drive a car.

USEFUL THINGS I CAN’T DO:

Chop down big trees and cut them into lumber or firewood.

Handle a horse, train a dog, or tend to a herd of animals.

Handle a boat without panicking others.

Throw a fastball, curve, or slider.

Load, shoot, and clean a gun. Or bow and arrow. Or use either of them, or a spear, net, snare, boomerang, or blowgun to obtain meat.

Defend myself with my bare hands.

Keillor confesses, “maybe it’s an okay report card for a person, but I don’t know any persons… For a guy, it’s not good.”

The masculine journey is seated in the recovery of the generalist. We must receive the initiation, training, and validation in those arenas that all men were meant to have.  By way of example:

  • To handle a tool, and a weapon, with precision
  • To handle a woman’s heart with care
  • To bring order to chaos
  • To plant something
  • To build something, with our own hands
  • To be able to fix things
  • To put food on our table
  • To survive, and rescue others if needed
  • To exercise fierce mastery over our kingdom (which Dallas Willard would define as the range of our effective will)

This journey of recovering the “generalist” aspect of our masculinity involves years of intimate encounters with our Kind, Strong, Brilliant, and Patient Father who is more than willing to train us in the way we should go.  It’s what He loves to do, and He’s overjoyed when He’s invited to do it.

And in these encounters with the Father not only will we recover parts of ourselves that have been lost, but we will recover a knowing of an aspect of Him that has also been lost in our day and age. We get to learn the Father as He truly is, not as we have learned Him to be.

Our culture has lost touch with God’s strength, wildness, prowess, and daring. One of the several deadly assumptions we’ve come to instead is that God is soft.

Neutered.

Declawed.

Dorothy Sayers says it this way:

To do them justice, the people who crucified Jesus did not do so because He was a bore. Quite the contrary; He was too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have declawed the lion of Judah and made Him a housecat for pale priests and pious old ladies.

We’ve neutered our image of God and in turn, this neutering has been done back to us.

And the recovery must begin now.

Our restoration as men, and the recovery of our heart and strength, begins not in our unique calling and gifting, but in something far more foundational.

Our restoration begins in us simply as men.

What if, at core, a man was always intended to be a generalist?

How will you start to regain strength in the places of atrophy?

What waters will you venture into that you might have dismissed as unimportant, below you, or intimidating?

What have you outsourced that you might need to take back for a season or a lifetime?

Here’s an exercise that’s a really helpful start.  Think of your domain—the range of your effective will. Beginning with your stuff, moving from there into your relationships, spheres of influence, geography, and going beyond into your internal world, below the waterline, make two lists:

USEFUL THINGS I CAN DO:

 

USEFUL THINGS I CAN’T DO:

 

Literally. Today.

Consider those lists.  Seriously.  Bring them to God as your Father.  Ask Him for His interpretation.  Ask Him for the next step…

I made those lists a decade ago.  They’ve transformed my life.  The “can’t do” list is growing shorter with every passing season. The “can do list” is growing longer.

Something is healing inside of me.  Something is growing, deep and strong.

And the blown out tire stands as a memorial on my desk to Old Grizz, ever reminding me of the Story in which God has set us and the irreplaceable role  we get to play.

Tire on Desk

For another generalist story and invitation, check out Muskrat.