The Nature of Man*

*I am using the masculine term intentionally. Hang with me and you’ll see.

So, God who is Love, what of us? Who are we, and why does it so often seem as though we are so far from love, so far from you?

I believe you have made us with some essential needs that you intend to draw us closer to our purpose. We need health, security, connection, purpose and play. And we best achieve all of those in a web of loving relationships. But this isn’t the world we live in, mostly.

We are organized around the premise that power is the central dynamic of our life. Whether it’s political, economic, military, institutional, or interpersonal, our world holds up as most important being powerful. This is in most respects the opposite of love.

A lot of our discussion in today’s culture has to do with addressing the inequality of power, with acknolwedging and correcting for the historical systems of power that gave advantages to one gender, race, creed, sexual orientation, class, etc., at the expense of others. It’s a cause that can be pursued in the interest of justice and the interest of love. But it presupposes that power is our highest good and aim.

Men, particularly straight, white, American men, are in trouble. Not because they are being besieged by those over whom they have historically held privilege, primarily, but because they are finally reaping the fruits of a “king of the mountain” game fought on the wrong mountain. They are, to at lease some degree, on top. But from where they stand, they are unwittingly bearing witness to the reality that the hierarchies of power on which they stand are ultimately without purpose and ultimately unable to meet the needs of human flourishing.

The model of masculinity we hold up in our culture is a self-destructive contradiction that, sadly, is being proven so by the waves of male depression, drug abuse and violence that fill our news. We try to identify the next potential terrorist, be it white nationalist or religious extremist. We fret about the lost generation of young men who seem devoid of ambition and unable to grow into full adulthood. We mourn the loss of so many who have succumbed to drug abuse, addiction, mental illness and despair.

But we aren’t asking why this is happening, and we should. I believe these problems are rooted in a false understanding of humanity is designed to be, which correlates to a false understanding of who men should be.

Because we prioritize power as the be-all, end-all, we inculcate boys to seek power. Some use outdated or limited concepts of physical power; in truth, in very few instances does our economic, political and cultural system bestow power on those who are physically strong.

We prioritize other, more modern forms of power – economic power, sexual prowess, even intellect. But what we tell boys who want to pursue this mirage of manhood is that to be truly masculine, truly powerful, truly successful, you have to bury your emotions. Keep connections at a safe distance. Show no vulnerability. And all of that is the opposite of love.

So our model of masculinity prevents connection, which is the ultimate source of security, and the absence of which undermines physical, mental and spiritual health. It requires the creation of idolatrous purposes we were not made for. And we wonder why men are so messed up.

A true sense of who we are starts with love. To be truly human is to be interconnected and mutually vulnerable. To live “on purpose” is to live for others as others live for you. Together we create security and together we spark health of all sorts. And in that vulnerability we create space for a truly renewing form of play.

We live in the absence of those things because the price of the capacity for love is the capacity to choose otherwise, and our finitude, paired with our transcendent awareness of our finitude, creates an anxiety that causes us to sell love and others short and choose power and self instead.

And that is what is messed up about men today.

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