A New Model of Manhood
by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Massachusetts, May 30, 1999
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
Micah 4:1-5 Swords
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
"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
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
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
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
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?
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)