Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Men Don't Need Vulnerability, They Need Humility


Over at A Holy Experience Nate Pyle has written a piece in support of his book Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. The blog post is called "dear hurting world: how we need to raise our sons to be man enough". It is written to his son and is full of grace, grace, God's grace, etcetera. It begins with "You have nothing to prove. Christ has deemed you worthy." [emphasis his]

Throughout the piece Pyle repeats to his son that he has nothing to prove. He wants his son to reject the world's demands that he prove himself with sex, violence, and lucracious lucre. Instead, he wants his son to be the man that he is. What man is that, you ask? As I said, that's the man that he is.

Which is, according to his dad, a kind and generous boy who loves Jesus. Seeing that there is no sin or evil or bad in Pyle's post, we presume that Pyle is speaking of the spiritual man in his son, the one who wants to do the will of God, who do not do what he do to do, but do to do that he do not do do. I acknowledge that my cynicism leads me to read it this way, because the post appears to be operating in a universe where boys emerge from their mothers wombs covered in schmutz but spiritually immaculate. Nonetheless I rejoice along with Pyle that his boy knows Jesus. And Pyle tells his son to grow into Christ: "You grow into a man when you grow into yourself in Christ. And when you find yourself in Christ, you’ll be a man."

What does Pyle want from us? To stop teaching our boys to earn their manhood. They are men by grace. In particular, Christians ought to stop teaching boys to earn manhood through "Win the fight. Do it without crying. Earn lots of money. Get physical with a girl."
God gave you a gentle and sensitive heart. Gentleness is a fruit cultivated by the Spirit, but seen as weakness by men.  Our world does not seem to like men who appear weak. Unfortunately, men are often mocked for their weakness by being called women, as if being a woman is less than being a man. You don’t have to be afraid of women, and more than that, you don’t have to be afraid of being seen as weak.  Don’t be afraid of weakness. 
Many men are repulsed by and afraid of weakness. There is no doubt of that, and it is not Christlike. In weakness we are like Jesus. In our weakness the power of God is complete. We are too weak to even pray for ourselves, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.

Very well. Nate Pyle reminded us that we have nothing to prove as men, because Jesus paid it all. He then reminded us that as followers of Jesus we must embrace weakness. True, and good, and beautiful. What, then, is his conclusion?

That we must be vulnerable.

Le sigh, y'all. "Vulnerable".

I don't even know what that word means anymore. At least the word "brokenness" was never brought into play; for that small grace I give thanks. If we are weak, which we are, and prone to evil and slothful in good, which we are, and even broken, which we are, then by definition we are vulnerable. Pyle means more here than susceptibility to harm. He means sharing feelings and whatnot, and, as he says, "being honest".

Oh, guys, let's touch and feel each other and talk about mere descriptors like vulnerability while forgetting real Christian virtues such as humility.

Behold, I come with graphs. Since 1950 the rate of occurrence of the word "vulnerable" has quadrupled in its use in books. Meanwhile, since 1840, twenty years after Friedrich's Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog and contemporaneous to that century's stupid germanness and infatuation with people like Matthew Arnold, the use of the words "humble" and "humility" has dropped precipitously. Y'all. Off-a-cliff precipitously.



Do you know what Nate Pyle seems to be most grateful for and proud of in his son? His gentleness and compassion. "God gave you a gentle and sensitive heart. Gentleness is a fruit cultivated by the Spirit, but seen as weakness by men." [again, italics or boldfaces his] It is indeed so. You know what isn't a fruit cultivated by the Spirit? Vulnerability.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Wow. A man who bore the fruit of the Spirit would be quite a man. The sort of man who by the grace and power of Jesus all we sons may be. Pyle, with Paul, wants us to put on the new self. Let us go then to that classic text on the matter from Colossians: "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive."

This sounds like the sort of compassionate man we were talking about, except not, you know, like, vulnerable. You know? And, like, you know, not vulnerable in the sense that we might get eaten by a dragon, like Jesus was before it spit him out. Not vulnerable like watch out for Satan who roams looking for whom he may devour. Not vulnerable like to the world, the flesh, and the devil, or to the love of money, through which we have pierced ourselves with many pangs. Nope. In that sense we're vulnerable. That's why we have the armor of God. But nowhere in all that compassionate hearts and kindness and meekness were the gifts of vulnerability or over-sharing.

You know what was present in that list? Humility. That is the cardinal virtue men are missing. To be vulnerable in Pyle's sense we must be thinking of ourselves. And sometimes, I confess it, needs must. But there is nothing desirable about it. Being vulnerable in that sense must at most be a step of confession on the road to humility. Vulnerability wallows in sin; vulnerability is self-absorbed; vulnerability is a kind of pride.

There have always been bad men who taught that real men beat people up and make the most money. There have always been bad Christians who taught that too. But as a Church we have recognized that they're bad Christians. We want to be like Jesus. We want to be humble. And by his grace we will be.

According to Pyle, sex and mountain climbing and earning power and fighting don't make you a man. Jesus does. And we Christian men know that God doesn't call us to climb mountains or make lots of money. He doesn't even call all men to have sex. But here's the problem: Jesus does call every man to fight. We fight the good fight. We take hold. We run the race. We put on the armor of God. We fight for others the way he fought for us. Every good man must fight.

And if every good man must fight, we mustn't act vulnerable. We must act humble. "Oh my God I pray thee, in the combat stay me. Grant that I may ever be loyal, staunch, and true to thee."


7 comments:

  1. Yeah, posts like that are why I regretfully had to stop reading Ann Voskamp. The other reason was that she has gotten really big into the idea of "if we could all just be better Christians then the world wouldn't hate us and embrace Jesus" which is just patently false and smacks of works-righteousness. Sad to see someone that you used to like go down a path of mushy unbiblical feel-good-ism.

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    1. As you say, false and falsely righteous. Self-righteous, even. Thanks for reading.

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  2. Maybe I'm misreading his original post, but I feel like you're missing the point. I don't see anything in that article that indicates, "He means sharing feelings and whatnot." You pull out some keywords and phrases, but they are not the ones I see as his emphasis. Here is what I think is the heart of his post:

    "You’re going to feel the pressure from every side to be something you’re not."

    "Your challenge is to hold on to the characteristics God gave you. You’ll want to trade them in and try to be like some other guy, but don’t."

    "You have nothing to prove."

    In this sense, vulnerability is not "let's touch and feel each other." For men, it is the opposite of machismo and bravado. It is being authentic (uh oh, another buzzword).

    While I realize that "vulnerability" is one of those words thrown around a lot in pop culture and looks a lot like what you criticize above. But people who study vulnerability in academia are writing things of value to many who have been harmed by their invulnerability.

    Vulnerability is something that I really had to learn and am still learning. Invulnerability was working all the time at the expense of my relationship with my family. Invulnerability was working two jobs so that I could provide my wife everything I wanted her to have rather than having living a simple life within the means of my one job (and still giving her everything she wanted). Vulnerability was looking at my life and motivations and bringing others into that circle, especially my family and my close friends. Vulnerability was a precursor to humility because I had to admit that some things were out of whack in my life in order take the next step of humility. I think the vulnerability and humility are inextricably connected.

    Vulnerability doesn't mean we cannot ever fight, but it does mean that we can't fight for the sake of pride or what we want.

    I think that, just as some have over-reacted to invulnerability by turning everything effeminate, I think that you've perhaps gone the other direction by agreeing with them that vulnerability=feminine (and I admit many who are endorsing the word, like Ann Voskamp, are very schmaltzy, smushy, and feminine).

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    1. Addressing the last paragraph, not at all. Unless one uses it in the sense you seem to be using it in. Superman is invulnerable and Batman is vulnerable. But Superman is way more likely to be "vulnerable". Lois likes it when he shares. I'm saying it's a stupid use of the word.

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  3. Threw in an extra couple of words there...

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  4. This thoughtful analysis made me enjoy this song a little less: https://open.spotify.com/track/2sfIe1M3bJSOVdiALsirUI

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