Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Men’s Issues

What are men’s issues, what are the things important to men, and what moves us and what are the things men often like? 

Some men are gentle; does this make them lesser men?  No, I don’t think so.  Some men, like me, are a curious mix of tough and gentle, we’re city boys used to seeing macho guys, some with tattoos and shaven heads and used to watching our backs in the tougher parts of cities. Cities call for a kind of toughness, but they also call for a kind of urbane smartness and refinement; many of us have these two qualities.  We’re tough because of where we grew up, but perhaps we’re gentle too, maybe because we’re Christian men and maybe because we see the folly of violence.

If you’re a working class male, or you grew up in a working class city or council estate or environment, you’re probably used to seeing violent people and the occasional violent situation and you might be used to seeing the limited horizons some working class people have and what this can mean for men: unemployment, drifting, getting involved with the wrong crowd, indulging in drink or even drugs. I’m not suggesting that only working class men are involved in these kinds of things as they can affect all different kinds of people from all walks of life, but that for poorer men, this can be their lifestyle because it’s the only one they can cling to, and when men have nothing else in their lives, they can doggedly cling to a lifestyle that to most everyone else appears harmful, unhelpful, life-limiting and even dangerous.

Nothing in life is permanent-just when you think you’ve got something pegged, then everything changes.  Life changes, society changes, people change, situations change and life in all its splendour just keeps on going whatever happens.

The lucky men find in life what makes them successful or what makes them happy, and they pursue it, and so subsequently find their thing in life.  No doubt there are many more men who struggle to make their mark in life, still trying to figure it all our and sometimes going from one thing to another and never quite finding just what it is they want; that sums up me anyway.

Does God want Christian men to be stereotypes, stereotype Christians?  Are we meant to question things, the way things are, or are we meant to just to put up and shut up?  If God created us, then all the things we are, questioning, asking, inquisitive, all these things must be from God.  Why do we pretend to be what we are not, why do we hide behind religion and religious platitudes instead of finding out who we really are?  Are we frightened of who we really are, are we frightened of finding out the truth of who and what we are?  And, just who are we?

We’re men, in all our glorious mess, our glorious imperfection, our wonderings, our wonderings of just who we are and what our lives mean.

Once you feel like a loser, for whatever reason, it’s hard to shake off the feeling and it can consume you and seem to ruin your life. 

We all deserve a second chance, we all deserve another shot at life, no matter what we’ve done or what we haven’t done.

Anyone can be a good Christian, a good neighbour if they live in a nice, prosperous middle class suburb, but their faith isn’t really tested. What if you don’t live in a nice prosperous middle class suburb?  It’s easy to be nice if you’ve got a nice comfortable life, surrounded by affluence and other nice people.  What if you don’t have a nice comfortable life?  What happens if you’re unemployed, or very poor and struggling, or live in a very run down area or just struggle to make something of yourself?  Are you not Christian material then?

What sort of people did Jesus come for?  Those who have it all together or those who find they haven’t got it all together?

What sort of men does God want?  Perfect men with good jobs, always smiling and endlessly successful with film star looks?  What about men like me, a mix of all kinds of contradictory emotions, sometimes awkward, or loners, or misfits?  Is God above dealing with people like that, people like me, people like you?  What does God want with us anyway?  Why doesn’t He leave us alone?  Weren’t we fine doing our own thing, didn’t we get on well without Him?

Can bad men be reformed, can they become Christians?  What about those men who don’t really care one way or the other about religion, who would rather be in a pub than in a church?  Can God reach out to them?  Why don’t men like going to church, why do so many men feel it’s not for us even if we are Christians?  Does organised Christianity appeal to men?  It doesn’t appeal to me anyway.  I’ve wondered about this for a long time: just what sort of worship do we want as Christians? It seems to me that church attendance is declining and yet no one is really asking why. Is it because it seems so deadly dull and out of touch?  What city boy wants, really wants, to go to a traditional church, sing hymns and hear a sermon that seems to have absolutely no relevance to them?  Raising money for church roofs, bric-a-brac sales and garden fetes are all very well, but they are not what Christianity is really about.

Talk about crucifixion and the suffering and trials and temptations of Jesus, and some men might relate to that.  We relate to what we know, to suffering, to hard lives, depression and sometimes the sheer injustice of life and the way things have turned out for us.  I can relate to Jesus’ sufferings because I have suffered.  Why can’t we be honest about all of this, why do we have to hide behind all kinds of falsehood, why can’t we debate and discuss these, and many other, issues openly and honestly?  Are we supposed to keep our heads down, say nothing, and pretend everything’s fine even when it’s obvious that it’s not?  If we’re honest, we might just find some truth by default.  And, don’t we all want to get to the truth, after all?

So, we’re men and we have issues.

What is all this religion about?  What is Christianity about?  What’s with all these denominations and which denomination is the true one anyway?  What sort of church do men want?  One that doesn’t mind our tattoos, our unshaven faces and looking like thugs in jeans and t-shirts? Do we want a church that has a barbecue serving steaks and ribs and burgers and a bar serving ice cold beer, with footy on the telly? Perhaps. What we most want is something real, something that speaks to our hearts and experience, something that makes sense to our troubled souls. What we want is a faith that speaks to us, to our masculinity, our brokenness, our uncertainties, our awkwardness, all the things in fact that make us men. Is Jesus big and tough enough to deliver all this?  I think He is. Perhaps we need to ask Him.

Men are complex. We cry at some things, but not at others. We are emotional, but usually in a negative aggressive sense.  We are meant to be hard, but we ache to be gentle and kind and caring.

Who do men identify with and want to be like?  Famous footballers, rock stars past and present, charismatic and handsome film stars from all eras, and maybe great writers and thinkers and artists. Some of us may even identify with Jesus.

We’re all mostly ordinary men, so why do we identify with the extraordinary, the great, the best? What’s lacking in us, for us to want to be something out of the ordinary? We’re ordinary and we live in the mundane everyday world, but sometimes we yearn for something bigger than us, to be something beyond us, to be part of something bigger than we are. We want it all to mean something. That everything isn’t by accident but that it all has a purpose, a bigger purpose that will be made known to us.

Life is unfair. Some of us are born wealthy and affluent, and some of us simply are not. Getting on is an issue for most men. But how are we to approach this as Christians?  Surely we should just leave it to God, pray and hope for the best?  Are we even to have ambitions to better lives as Christian men?  Surely Christians are meant to live in poverty and just accept the circumstances they find themselves in? Well, in the past poor people often had accept their lot in life, whilst rich people, those wealthy or connected, could really do what they liked. We live in more enlightened times now, and part of life for most people is getting on, progressing, setting goals and going about trying to achieve them.  But for the Christian man, where does God fit into all of this? Is trying to be successful setting ourselves against God and His plan for our lives? Doesn’t everyone want to get on? What about the Christian man? I believe in every area of our lives, especially whatever it is that we are unsure about, we should simply pray to God for help and for an answer. Everything we do in a sense should be approved by God, but there’s no reason at all why anyone can’t aspire to a better life, to make money, to fulfil a dream, start a business, be a sportsman, musician, writer, shopkeeper, further a career or simply like many of us just get a job. There seems to be an unwritten rule, especially in England, that Christians must stay poor to be real Christians.  I’m not quite sure why. It never seems to apply to those already wealthy or Middle and Upper class Christians though. There is a double-standard here which we all need to move on from. Christianity can be about empowering people, to do things they might never have dreamed of. God’s calling on your life might very well be to serve Him in some kind of reduced circumstances, helping others in poverty-stricken areas, but it might also be that God wants you to enjoy abundance and be successful, providing of course you remain true to Him and your Christian calling. It can be done.

Where do men stand with women?  Where do Christian men stand with the whole dating game?  If you make a move on some women, even if they like you, they’ll draw back from you and act like they don’t like you.  With another kind of women, if they like you they flash their eyes at you and expect you to rush over and break the ice. If you don’t right at that moment, they won’t usually give you a second chance. So, what’s a man to do?

All the things we want to be good at, successful with women, successful in general, happy, healthy, with a general sunny out outlook, yet we often fail to live up to any of this and we feel failures. Yes, we’re men and we have issues. You may ask ‘are we Christian men real people?’ Yes, we’re real people, if you hit us we bleed like anyone else. Why do we cling to so stubbornly to this faith, this belief, when often it seems to bring us no good?

For Christian men, the past represents our old life, and the present and future represents our new Christian life.

Money! That old chestnut money. Is there more to life than money and the making of money?  Whatever we think about it, money is something that is a big part of men’s lives, either we have it or we don’t have it, either we’re making it or we’re not making it and, whether we have it or not, it is the thing we most want in life, the thing we must keep making. If we don’t have it we want it, and if we have it we want even more of it. So, is there more to life than money? Well, there is peace, joy, happiness, a sense of well-being and contentment, and also the idea that we are not continually looking around the corner waiting for something better to turn up.  But, let’s be honest, we can attain all these things anytime...can’t we? And what we all really want is money...isn’t it? Money is what makes the world go round, and whether we like it or not, we live in a world dominated by money, one way or the other.

Money touches all our lives. In what way should Christian men treat money?  This could be an easy question, or not an easy question, depending on your point of view.  The first answer is we should fulfil our need before we satisfy our greed and we should be grateful for the good things in life we already have, like a roof over our heads, food in the fridge, access to the things in life that keep us clean and healthy and so on, and not worry so much about whether we are wealthy. Of course, to some men, this answer might seem a cop-out, a trite answer that just doesn’t work. I mean, don’t we all want to get on, make money, be successful, improve our lives and have a good quality of life and be able to buy the things we want? Most of us do, if we’re honest but where do we draw the line?

I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men!’ (Ecclesiastes 1:13)

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