Beside

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The image of a young girl, responsive, but hurt, being carried away from Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas last month was chilling. Her condition seemed severe or at least dire and unclear, after a foul ball from Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. hit her fast and hard in the head.

 

The crowd looked to her and her family as everyone worked to get the little girl to the hospital. And as all of this happening, the batter had become emotional. He was slumped in the middle of the field in tears over the pain he had caused this child. And not just a few tears, real tears, ugly tears. A teammate was by his side, but Almora Jr. seemed inconsolable, completely shaken. Later he told the press that as a father of two boys, he just couldn’t hold his emotion in…

 

The camera followed him as he checked with the fans and a security guard to learn of any developments with the young girl and still while tens of thousands of fans looked on and millions watched on TV, an accomplished man, a sports hero, wept…in front of everyone.

 

Some of the conversation that ensued was about the height of retractable nets and the possibility of seating young children in particular places. Then social media exploded with commentary of a wide variety. Is there crying in baseball?

 

It was simply shocking to some, that he was showing so much emotion and in front of so many. He wasn’t just shedding a couple of tears, he was shattered. And while some lauded it, many also mocked it.

 

This incident pointed out what has felt true for some time- that manhood in this country is being reconstructed right now- what it means to be a strong man, a good man, a successful man- all that is connected to being a man in this place, at this time, is being examined and in some places, manhood is being remade. Maybe because it needs to be.

 

Father Richard Rohr said, “An uninitiated man lives in an isolated body and a disconnected world. He must take personal responsibility for creating all the patterns and making all the connections - if there are any. It is an unwhole, incoherent, and finally unsafe world. No wonder the typical young man in our non-mythic culture spends so much time posturing, climbing, and overcompensating.  In his heart he knows it is all not true - and therefore not sacred.”

 

I have heard that this remaking of manhood has led to some feeling displaced or afraid. In some ways the idea that what it means to be a man could change, feels overwhelming. But I have also heard that for others, there is a freedom in this time of rethinking.

 

Mark Green author of Remaking Manhood: The Modern Masculinity Movement: Stories From the Front Lines of Change, writes, “choose to be a traditional American man if that is how you want to perform masculinity, that's fine. But it’s not the only way to be a man. There are many ways. Too many to count. And in the moment, you ditch the part of the Man Box that says everyone has to be like you, you free all of us. Men, women and children. And you free yourself.”

 

Billy Porter, actor and star of Kinky Boots said in an interview earlier this month, “I want to flip the question of what it means to be a man,” “This question of masculinity, this sort of microscope of heteronormative masculinity that we are very often held up to, especially as leading men, needs to be shattered. You know it’s toxic and I’m over it and I’ve lived it and I’m not doing it anymore.”1

 

And he is not the only one.

 

Because it is clear that when the world tells men- keep it in, don’t reveal what’s within, suck it up, there are consequences in our inner and outer worlds. Some say that what we are experiencing in our political life is the result of this. Suppressing what is hard or what hurts, means pain and shame never get transformed into something else… It gets passed on and causes harm. Men have disproportionately not been allowed to feel and look where we are.

 

As you heard in the words of Rudyard Kipling, you’ll be a man if you, “ lose, and start again at your beginnings. And never breathe a word about your loss…”

 

In the language of this moment, we might call this toxic masculinity in the form of poetry.

 

Never breathing a word about our losses, creates sadness and shame, disconnection from the truth of our hearts. Mark Greene writes, “It is the self-suppression of men's desires and aspirations that contributes to epidemic levels of male anger and reactivity, depression, alcoholism, domestic violence, divorce and suicide.” Because of all of this, some men haven’t been able to see the pain of others because no one saw it in them…

 

Because the world tells men- suck it up, keep it in, don’t reveal what’s within.

But this is a season of remaking, asking whether this is really serving us. It is a time filled with hope!

 

In the book of Proverbs, we are introduced to wisdom, in Greek, wisdom is Sophia and it is given a feminine pronoun, ”Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out…”

 

In the Bible, we have examples of masculine being tender and of feminine being the source of knowledge. And wisdom isn’t power that comes from the top. It is beside and connected.

 

Christianity has played a significant role in perpetuating the myth of gender as being so limited. Christianity has made a lot out of Father God, infusing it with the implication that manhood as we have known it, is ordained by the Divine, as if men are to replicate our own human construction of God, as if God is a boy’s name and God is a king and men are to be too- all-knowing, all-powerful, yet disconnected.

 

In the Christian tradition, today is Trinity Sunday and it felt like a Cosmic lure to explore this intersection with Father’s Day. Christians think of the Trinity as God in three persons, sometimes even three male persons. And yet in spite of what you might have heard, the word “Trinity” appears nowhere in the Bible. The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity comes down to us from the tradition of the Church by way of the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon.2

 

In Fourth Century Cappadocia, a great contemplative wisdom school arose in Christianity. The main players were Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. These theologians began to create the trinity as a concept, which can be seen less as a Doctrine and more like an eternal archetype.

 

The trinity is not 3 male persons or powers, rather it is a symbol meant to convey the “flow of energy between.” In fact, the word translated as “person” hypostasis in Greek doesn’t refer to an individual, but instead “a state of being- just as water can manifest as ice, liquid or vapor, but remains the same chemical compounds throughout.” 3

 

The trinity points us to relationality and a pouring out, that flows among all dimensions. It’s about mutuality and I believe it offers a solid model for love and leadership, for partnership and transforming pain. The trinity might get us beyond Father God. Beauty and wisdom can emerge from any part. Healing comes from connection. The most important piece is the proximity and the quality of the relationships between each thing, how they relate and interact.

 

Maybe this offers a new model for manhood? Perhaps what it means to be a strong man, a good man, a successful man is no longer the stoic one, but the connected one? The authentic one? Maybe this moment in our history asks us to leave behind the Father God on a throne as our guide?

 

Wisdom is calling and she is raising her voice, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand.  Let this be a place where we hear… Let this faith community be a safe space to try on and experiment with new ways of being. Because what we need is not a disconnected Father God or disconnected men. What all of us need is for men to be allowed weep, to feel, to be seen. What we need is to honor what is inside as well as beside. May all of us be freed. May this be so, as God calls us onward in hope. Amen.

 

(In the sanctuary, this sermon was followed by sharing in smaller groups about what emerged in people. The wisdom of the room had the last word.)

 

 

 

1 Sunday Styles. New York Times. Sunday June, 9th. 2019 “I Don’t Have to Pretend Anymore” by Jaime Lowe

 

2 http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/trinity-sunday-c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel#sthash.lh2ZsI5j.dpuf

 

3 The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind- a New Perspective on Christ and His Message by Cynthia Bourgeault

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