Disclaimer: BecomeGoodSoil.com is a blog written for men who are choosing a decade of excavation. My motive is to write with integrity and love to this group of men uniquely. If that’s not you, I welcome you to enjoy, drink deeply, and invite God to bring nourishment to your heart. But be mindful that some of the topics, language, etc., might not sit well with you; in fact, they might be offensive. I trust you and your walk with God to sort that all out.
The tragic fall of masculinity has whispered to me all my life, dissonant with something I know to be true. Yet it was glaringly obvious the other day when a coworker asked my friend Allen and me to assemble a set of IKEA shelves for her office.
The directions were as simple as I’ve ever seen in a package.
And I blew a gasket when I looked at them.
Before reading on, take a minute to soak in the directions I pasted below:
In time, I was finally able to put words to what pissed me off: it’s what I sensed the “technical writers” were implying in the sequence of images (notice the image begins in a quotation box). It goes something like this:
(Frame 1) Hey, you. You have no penis. So here’s what you need to do. Go find that little pink toolkit your wife’s dad gave her when she left home. Find a screwdriver and a hammer. That’s it. Nothing else. You heard what I said. A screwdriver and a hammer.
(Frame 2) Now, don’t do something stupid like trying to pick this little set of shelves up by your androgynous self. Go find another genderless buddy to help you carry it.
(Frame 3) This is a simple, straightforward job. Any man could do it with ease. But you are going to screw it up. When you do, don’t make it worse. Just stop everything and call us, the experts. We’ll help you get out of the mess you’ve so easily gotten yourself into.
Be honest. Brutally honest.
Look at those directions—what is your unedited reaction?
There’s a reason IKEA has made the instruction manual this way.
Because it works.
One look at IKEA’s sales numbers tells us that their strategy to require essentially no skill in the assembly of their products is a bullseye on the target of our culture’s demand. IKEA’s thriving is an answer to the question for the current state of masculinity. Into their retail stores in 42 countries, they welcomed 775 million visitors and had 29.2 billion dollars in revenue in 2013 alone.
By way of contrast to our castrated IKEA buddy, check out an alternative vision of masculinity offered by Gerber, a leading knife manufacturer.
Don’t skip over this video.
It’s too important. It’s eternally important.
If a playable video does not appear below, click on this link to go to view.
Now, take a moment to respond with your heart to that. What is your heart saying to you? Don’t you want to be “that guy”? Notice, too, if there is another voice in your heart that says, simultaneously, “that could never be me.”
Listen closely, because that second voice is wrong. This is exactly who you are meant to be.
This Gerber video is a mythic picture of the spiritual reality God is after in your heart as a man—in the heart of EVERY man.
Gerber gets it: they have tapped into the core longings of the masculine heart.
A man and a knife. That could save the world.
At least, it was intended to.
A man and a knife were meant to be sufficient. And even more than sufficient. A man was intended to walk ever deeper into a blend of fierce mastery and determined love, both growing in the context of absolute unity with his Heavenly Father.
In fact, fully restored masculinity is God’s choicest answer to the problem of trouble on the earth.
[Now, of course, there is a need, a deep and desperate need, for women to be restored, as well, as women. As you recall, the deepest way in which we bear the image of God is as men and women (Genesis 1:27). Eve is the crown of creation and God’s most treasured masterpiece. As this is a blog by a man, for men, this dialogue is dedicated to exploring more deeply the heart of a man.]
What are we to make of the contrast between the image of masculinity in IKEA instructions and the images from the Gerber video?
I’m aware how IKEA welcomes defeat and surrender, while God, through Gerber, causes desire to surge within me.
This isn’t a new thought.
C.S. Lewis could’ve likely written Abolition of Man after his first visit to an IKEA store. While it is one of the most challenging books I’ve ever read (and still mostly have not grasped), I believe some of C.S. Lewis’s insights into the fall of masculinity are particularly helpful on this point. Lewis writes,
In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate the geldings and bid them be fruitful.
A man was meant to engage. To offer strength. To rise up. To be whole and strong. God, our Father, believes in masculinity far more than the three piece suits at IKEA do. As a matter of fact, He’s put all His chips on restored humanity to bring the kingdom in full.
Through a collision of historical and cultural forces as well as the wages of sin and the determination of our enemy, so much of what God meant when He meant man has been lost.
No, better said, stolen.
No, even deeper than that, surrendered.
How can we live out our masculinity when our “organ” has been removed? The castration has come in many forms. One of them is the loss of a context to develop the pragmatic skills that let us engage the world and its trouble with settled confidence. We’ve ceded the fierce mastery we were invited into early in the Story.
What if this loss of essential and substantive masculinity was central to what Jesus was after when He declared that “the Son of Man came to seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10)?
This verse has gotten neutered into a salvation-prayer-kind-of-eternal-bandaid, when the roots of Jesus’ intentions go deep and wide.
What if it wasn’t the lost He was referring to, as in people in general, but precisely all the parts of humanity that were lost and broken in the Fall? The word translated as “save” is the Greek word “sozo,” which means “to save from suffering and disease, to make well, to restore to health in every way.” What if the context in which Jesus offers His life is not a one-time eternal ticket, but rather a day-by-day and decade-by-decade apprenticeship in Kingdom living?
The world, the flesh, and the evil one have a single purpose in taking us out as men: to destroy the image of God in us. To create a path for us to atrophy into the eunuchs that IKEA believes we are, and to completely lose our hearts in the process.
If you recall, Paul urges us with this counsel on how to live in the Kingdom of God as men:
Keep your eyes open for spiritual danger; stand true to the Lord; act like men; be strong; do everything in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13
I doubt IKEA’s Helpline is what Paul had in mind when he was urging us to stand against opposition.
Through the incarnate life of God, in Jesus, we are offered another way.
He has come to put a knife in your hand, to train you as a warrior and as a man.
The life of King David provides a brilliant picture of a man who was fathered by God. David declared in thanksgiving as he turned toward his Father,
Blessed be God, my mountain, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle (Psalm 144:1).
In Psalm 78 we read that David led the Israelites with both a whole heart and pragmatic expertise:
With integrity of heart and skillful hand he led them (v. 72).
David received God’s initiation as a man and became whole, and from his wholeness spilled both worship and fierce mastery.
A Case for Carrying a Knife
Where do we begin allowing God to restore the pragmatic expression of our masculinity? It might start with carrying a knife. Literally. On you, every day of your life.
It’s easy to blow off that invitation. Some might say it’s barbaric. Or simply “non-essential” in these days.
We live east of Eden. Most of our needs for a knife in practical terms have been conveniently removed. But the knife is mythic. It represents something deeper. It’s a symbol of a man whose heart and strength are intact. A man who has not outsourced his world and his masculinity to hired hands. A man who is capable of facing life’s deepest challenges and coming out whole.
A man like Jesus.
I haven’t gone a day without carrying my knife on me for almost two years now. And everything has changed. It’s becoming an extension of me. My cell phone used to be the first “accessory” I reached for each day. Now, it’s my knife.
I use it every chance I get.
Each time I draw it out, it is an exercise in wholeness, in integrity—becoming solid through and through. It’s one more small step toward whatever God meant by His word to Adam and Eve to exercise fierce mastery over their world (Genesis 1:28). Flicking that blade and using it to solve a problem, drawing from my resources within rather than outsourcing, has a way of healing the masculine soul.
It’s affirmation of the Father with no limits. Whether it’s sliding my knife into the pocket of my bike jersey, tucking it in the tool pocket of my Carhartts, or securing its clip in my board shorts before a swim, it’s working. I’m taking back something surrendered long ago. It’s working for me. It’ll work for you.
The other day, the kids were in the back of my truck with some of my friends, creating something with all the gear in my gearbox, when one of the boys said, “we need a knife!” My little six-year-old, Abigail, smiled and responded with easy confidence, “Oh, my daddy always has a knife!”
For a moment, all was right in the world.
Things were as they should be.
What they were asking for was a knife, but what they really were wanting was a man.
My kids ask almost daily, “Daddy, can I borrow your knife?” and in those moments I feel that something deeply wrong in the world is being righted…the ship that was floundering and insecure is finding its solid place in the deep blue.
Ask the Father where it would start for you today. Ask Him if He wants to bestow a knife on you. Any one will do. It’s the idea that matters most. Ask Him what the next step today might be in recovering the foundation of what God meant when He created you, as a man.
Father, I confess there are places in my heart as a man that have long since gone to sleep. Places that have atrophied. Places I have surrendered. But I know they are in there. I hear you saying “Arise.” You said “Come alive” to an army of dry bones, breathing Your life, Your inextinguishable life, into those bones, and they were raised from death to life. Sinew and muscle were restored. When others saw only dry bones, You saw an army waiting to be revived (Ezekiel 37).
I invite You to do it in me. I confess there are ways I don’t even know how to be a son, an apprentice. But You have my yes. You have my yes to all that I don’t even know but that I know I need.
I want to know the feeling of being a man, a whole-hearted man. I want to have the assurance that together with You, my heart deeply rooted and established in Your life, I can move in a way that the world will become a better place. Wrongs can be righted. Goodness can triumph over evil. Love can win.
You have my yes. Train me, guide me, apprentice me. What is it I need in order to recover all that I have surrendered? What have I given way to in my search for comfort and validation outside of You? Where have I chosen to drink from a mud puddle of self- sufficiency when You are offering an ocean of Life in which to live, work, and play?
You are my good teacher, my good Father, my truest guide. I give You permission and access.
I want to learn how to live my life as You would live it if You were me. (Dallas Willard’s words)
What is the next step? Shine Your light.
What is in the way?
I am Your son.
I am Your man.
I want to become who I was born to be.
Let’s do this thing.
If we every have the pleasure of meeting in person, I’d be honored to see your pocket knife and hear a story of how your Father is using it in your heart as as son and a man.