A New Model of Manhood
by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, May 30, 1999
Memorial Day 

Readings

Joshua 6:20, 21, 24 The destruction of Jericho

When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it--men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, and donkeys.... Then they burned the whole city and everything in it; but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord's house.

Micah 4:1-5 Swords into plowshares

In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more. Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.

John 14:23-27 Peace I leave with you

Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

"All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

Marital Love #32 Masculine and feminine

I will now explain briefly the essential nature of masculinity and femininity. Here is what the basic difference is: the innermost aspect of masculinity is love, and this is covered over with wisdom. In other words, masculinity is love clothed in wisdom. The innermost aspect of femininity is this masculine wisdom, and its covering is love.

Sermon

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more. Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:3, 4)

For several decades now, the women's movement has successfully challenged traditional notions of the "proper" roles of women and men. Women have made major inroads into areas of life that were once the exclusive province of men: business, finance, law, broadcasting; even military service is now open to women. There continue to be more men than women in most traditionally "male" professions, and more women doing traditionally "female" work. But in our society the gender barriers are no longer as rigid as they once were.

This has caused us to do much soul-searching as to what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be a man. As we observe Memorial Day--a holiday set aside in memory of those who have lost their lives in battle--I would like to focus especially on our changing views of men and masculinity. For one of the most enduring models of masculinity has been the model of man as a warrior, whose prime characteristics are strength, bravery, and skill in wielding the weapons of war.

This ancient model of masculinity is found throughout the Bible, but especially in the Old Testament, where there are so many wars and bloody battles that many Christians prefer to ignore the Old Testament and focus almost entirely on the New Testament. The passage that we read from Joshua is an example of what sends some people scurrying away from the Old Testament. In the battle of Jericho--the very first battle after the Israelites crossed the Jordan and entered the Holy Land--the slaughter was not confined to the enemy men of fighting age. The destruction of the city and its inhabitants was complete: men and women, young and old, even the livestock was put to the sword, and the entire city was burned to the ground. Only the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron were saved, to be added to the treasury of the Lord's house. We are left with the impression that the God of the Israelites was smiling down on this wholesale slaughter and destruction.

Although such scenes are repugnant to most civilized people today, back in the time when this battle was recorded such conquests were an occasion for celebration, not for apology. War was a fact of life. Often the destruction of enemies was presented as the will of God. The people of those times believed that national conquest was a divinely sanctioned activity, and that the enemies of their nation were fit only for death or slavery.

It has been only in recent centuries, and especially in recent decades, that there has been a widespread and sustained movement away from war as a legitimate occupation for men and nations. Yet even in the ancient scriptures the seeds of that movement are present:

He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more. (Micah 4:3)

This passage comes from a universal truth about war: War means the death of human beings and the destruction of their homes and communities, not to mention great damage to the world of nature. The people who lived in more warlike times may have exulted in battle when they were on the winning side; but they knew its terrors and devastation when they were on the losing side. And some of them--especially when they were on the losing side--longed for a reign of peace in which war would be a thing of the past.

Many of us have this same longing, even as our country continues to mount wars against various countries around the world. Some people wish for the complete banishment from our society both of war and of the weapons and language of war. This longing becomes especially strong when we cannot even banish the weapons of war from our schools, and our places of learning are turned into battlegrounds.

And yet, for those of us who look to the Bible as the Word of God, there is the stubborn fact that the Bible is full of war and all its trappings. Much of the Old Testament is one long battle--first to wrest the Holy Land from its former inhabitants and to enlarge its borders by conquering the surrounding nations; then to engage in civil war as the nation of Israel fell apart; and finally to become a conquered nation subject to the great powers of Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, and Rome. Even the New Testament has its climactic battles in the Book of Revelation.

How can we glean any redeeming social or spiritual value from this violent epic of human struggle? And how can the model it presents of man as warrior help us in giving shape to the new model of manhood that is developing in our time?

Jesus addressed these questions when he took the traditional language of war and peace and used it to point to spiritual realities. "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth," he said. "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Yet the sword of which he spoke was not a literal sword. The one time that one of his followers did use a sword, Jesus admonished him, "Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52).

When Jesus said he had come to bring, not peace, but a sword, he did not mean the literal sword of war, but of the spiritual sword of conflict and struggle against all that would stop us from living in the way that the Lord shows us. This is clear from what he says to introduce that surprising statement: "Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown him before my Father in heaven" (Matthew 9:32, 33).

For Christians, this is the battle in which we must draw the sword that the Lord puts into our hands. It is the battle over whether we will acknowledge the Lord before others by living according to the Lord's commandments, or whether we will disown the Lord before others by setting aside our higher principles and joining in with--or condoning by our inaction--attitudes and actions that we know are wrong. And within that battle there is a deeper battle over whether we will allow the Lord or our own blind thoughtlessness to control our lives. Will we be controlled by the higher self that the Lord gives us, or by the lower self that values only material and personal gain?

As we contemplate these deeper issues of spiritual peace and conflict, we can begin to build a new model of manhood. We do this, not by closing our eyes to the old model of man as warrior, but by and opening our eyes to the deeper model of man as spiritual warrior. We can build a model of masculinity as strength, bravery, and skill in wielding the weapons of spiritual truth and genuine morality in the war against everything within us and around us that tears down and destroys human life and kills the presence of God's love among us.

This deeper model of manhood helped me through my own adolescence. I was young for my grade and small for my age--the quintessential skinny little "brain." The model of big, macho masculinity simply didn't apply! For many boys who didn't fit that rough, tough mold, living with a constant barrage of macho men on TV and in the movies meant growing up with deep-seated doubts about their own masculinity. Many boys today continue to struggle with this kind of self-doubt.

Yet I was able to escape most of that self-doubt, not because I was better or smarter than any other non-macho boy, but simply because I had been gifted with a deeper and more compelling image of what it meant to be a man. Despite the allure of the well-muscled warrior image of masculinity, I knew within myself that this was an external and temporary image of manhood. I knew that there were deeper qualities of manhood that were far more real, and that applied just as much to skinny little schoolboys and to men who had aged beyond their physical prime as it did to those in the height of their physical prowess.

This image of manhood came to me from the teachings of our church. It is boiled down to its essence in our reading from Swedenborg's book on Marital Love. He writes, "The innermost aspect of masculinity is love, and this is covered over with wisdom. In other words, masculinity is love clothed in wisdom." Here we have a definition of masculinity that does not depend on the outward, physical form, but relates to our inward form--to the parts of us that make us truly human. It relates to the strength of love deep in the heart of a man. And it relates to a spiritual bravery and skill in expressing that love in wise and thoughtful ways that will bring improvement to our own life and to the lives of those around us.

What is unusual and even startling about this definition of masculinity is that it looks past the traditional identification of male with intelligence and female with love--a definition that Swedenborg himself uses hundreds of times in his theological writings. We learn here that although the male does tend to express himself outwardly through the medium of intelligence, ideas, and physical skill, this comes from an underlying reality of love that is the essence of masculinity. Conversely, although women do tend to express themselves outwardly through love--through relationships, through compassion and connection with other human beings--within that outward expression is a core of wisdom that relates especially to understanding the human spiritual situation at a deep level. This image of male and female is expressed through the Eastern symbol of the yin-yang, in which the outward color of one element in the circle becomes the inward color of the other.

For boys and men who are confused about their identities in a time of changing roles for men and women, this new image of masculinity offers a welcome relief. Because of it, we now have a basis in our faith for allowing ourselves to express the full range of our character, rather than limiting ourselves to certain parts of our personality, such as intellect and competitiveness, as we so often have in the past. We now know that concealed within that rougher and less beautiful exterior, the genuine essence of masculinity is a deep love that is placed in our hearts by the Lord, and that motivates everything we do.

This new model of manhood allows all men to exercise the desire for strength, bravery, and skill that we feel in our veins. We can develop the strength of love in our hearts, the bravery of standing up for what we know is right, and the skill of expressing these things in a way that brings about genuine good in each situation we face. When we express this kind of manhood throughout our lives, we can finally leave our inner battles behind and find peace in our souls. As our Lord tells us:

If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. . . . Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:23, 27)

Amen.

 


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Music: How I Love You
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