Lone Ranger Manhood

Last week I was privileged to be a special guest.

No, I wasn’t invited to join Prince William and Kate at the London Aquatics Centre to cheer Phelps, Adlington, Lochte and Franklin. It was better than that. I was selected to be a guest blogger for Trevin Wax. Trevin’s blog is called Kingdom People and can be found on The Gospel Coalition website (www.thegospelcoalition.org).

Even though Trevin and I haven’t met, I think he’s amazing (yes, I admit my bias). He blogs daily. You should follow him. I’ve been encouraged, educated, challenged and motivated through his writing and collection of valuable tidbits from around the web. He also has a keen eye for excellent guest bloggers.

Anyhow, click here to read my guest post. Below is the long-version of the link.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/07/31/you-are-not-called-to-be-the-lone-ranger/ 

In other news, my family is heading-out on an epic American West adventure. I’m sure our travels will provide plenty of fodder for future posts here on “Dwelling…”

Stay tuned.

Smallville

Adult life is not what I expected. I can’t define what it was I was looking for, but now that I’m here, I’ve been a bit surprised. For one, being an adult does not imply adult-like behavior. Next, no matter how great your eyesight was at 20, it will be worse at 40. Finally, the self image issues faced as a child haven’t really gone away.
My disillusionment with adult life was reenergized this week. In the course of conversation with a friend we each expressed a recent rough go of it. We were both wrestling the demons of fear, inadequacy, inability and smallness. The struggle was familiar. We’d been in this wrestling match before. Many times have we heard the sub-conscious shouts to give-up, tuck-tail and go home. This latest round of shouting was making us unsure, tentative, anxious and wobbly. As I wobbled, my thoughts drifted back to my growing-up years. Years of shyness and insecurity. Years of feeling…small.
Even though I’m all grown-up, at times I still feel small. Boyish, not man-ish. It’s a chronic syndrome that can be debilitating. Small feelings are like weeds in my thought life. A cold shadow on my demeanor. A fog over my marriage. An extinguisher of good parenting moments. Smallness shortens my temper while feeding emotional tiredness.
So what’s to be done when I tip toward thinking I’m small, second-rate and incapable – a little boy in a man’s body? Can I just fill my chest with air, cinch-up the boot straps and feign a John Wayne persona? Is looking big and manly the cure for small? Not really.
What I need is perspective. A reorientation that brings strength to my fragile moments. I need Someone who relates to my small with their big.
That big is God’s big. A big that engulfs, but doesn’t devour. A big that isn’t aloof or put-off by my self-centered fears. A big that is gentle, caring, comforting and available. A big that enters my small with understanding. A big that is personal, pursuing and gracious.
Here’s God, in all His bigness, entering our small.


Psalm 56:8-11
 (ESV)

 8You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?
9Then my enemies will turn back
    in the day when I call.
   This I know, that God is for me.
10In God, whose word I praise,
   in the LORD, whose word I praise,
11in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
   What can man do to me?
So much for feeling small. When I toss, turn, fret and fear God settles, holds, calms and protects. He gives me safe shelter to stand, expand and face the lies. To embrace truth. To be a man. God makes me big – not so I look big, but so He does.
I’m grateful that God is big for me. That He patiently coaxes me out of my miserable corner thinking small thoughts. That He empowers me to be bold and risky for Him. After all, when my big Father cares enough to know the stories of each tear and the angst of sleepless nights, who or what can ever tell me I’m small?

Deere Strike

Colored in gaudy green and yellow, John Deere is a bulwark of Americana. Rugged. Reliable. Trusted. Even in my dreams, I never owned one. Long ago I resigned myself to a destiny of off-brand mowing drudgery.

Well, I resigned too early. Through a series of fortunate events, I was able to add a Deere to my stable of lawn care equipment. I fondly remember that first season with my Deere. With aplomb I tamed a robust crop of spring dandelions. Summer crabgrass? Child’s play. Fall leaves? Mincemeat! I was in lawn mowing ecstasy. It was joyous to manage my little piece of creation with the real deal – Mr. J.D.

You might think my affection for a lawn tractor a bit over-the-top. But if you’re a Deere owner, you know of what I speak. It’s kinda like Jeep owners who plaster on their car, “It’s a Jeep thing.” Well, I have a “Deere thing.” But my “thing” goes beyond my tractor’s turf-taming abilities.

On my desk sits a photo of my John Deere. Don’t misunderstand. This is not idolatry (and yes, a picture of Katrina is very close by). The photo is not to admire, but to remember. It’s a picture of the front grill of my tractor – cracked – shattered, really. Beyond repair. A unique photo, for sure. Why? It makes me a better father. Here’s the story.

I knew the day would come. It had to. That day when my Deere affections hit head-on with male pre-pubescent driving aspirations. I was reticent to allow my son behind the wheel of my cherished green and yellow friend. But such hand-offs are a manhood requirement – a rite of passage. Yet not everything required is simple, easy or enjoyable. After some overly-detailed and much-repeated instruction, my good ole’ J.D. launched out of the garage with it’s a rookie driver grinning uncontrollably.

I tried my best to control the experience. You know, setup my son with a confidence building first-mow. Lots of straight-away with all landscaping (and family pets) safely out of the mowing path. I paced nervously inside the house. I snuck occasional glances out the window. I listened to the speed of the engine and the hum of the blades. Not too fast; not too slow. Things were progressing nicely. My heart rate had settled and my boy was exuberant in this step toward manhood. I was growing; he was growing. Then, in the midst of this Norman Rockwell moment, it happened.

The engine slowed. The blades disengaged. The mower stopped. I found a window and cast a bug-eyed stare. My view was partially obstructed, but I could see my son circling the mower. My mind played a dozen scenarios in a matter of seconds. I sarcastically mumbled to Katrina, “This isn’t going to be good.” After several minutes of circling, kneeling, pausing and doing nothing my son was back at the helm. The engine throttled to full speed and mowing continued.

I was red-lined with curiosity. A twitch of anger raced down my temple. Worst-case scenarios continued to play on the screen of my mind. The circumstance was ripe for a potent father/son interaction. An interaction heavy with growing-up, letting-go and man-making. As the noise of the tractor echoed in the garage, and then subsided, I sighed. And waited. And prayed. Then the door opened.

The rest of the story I’ll leave to your wondering. The truth is captured in that photo on my desk. When I look at that picture, it’s like picking a scab. The pain is renewed. Selfish pain born in materialism. Vicarious pain for my son and his mistake. Soul pain because of life’s brokenness.

The pain pushes me deeper into my fathering. It broadens my view and helps me see that life is bigger than me – and my tractor. To see that I’m not in control. To see that bringing life to my son’s manhood means some things in me must die.

G.K. Chesterton said, “A true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” Loving what’s behind means I do the hard work of true manly living. It means I welcome being broken and the moments of clarity and self-reflection brokenness brings. It means I expand gratitude for my heavenly Father who watches me break the metaphorical grill day after day – yet responds with grace. Thanks, Abba.

The Two-a-day Life

Discipline in a Long-Distance Race
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
(Hebrews 12:1-3, The Message)

Two-a-days. Remember those? One day of athletic practice containing a double-dose of drills, conditioning, listening, learning, yelling, spitting, sweating, grass, dirt, bruises, throwing-up and being thrown-up on. Oh, yeah!  Only the dreams of a championship trophy could sooth such practice field horrors.

I’ve done my share of two-a-days. Spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours practicing. I loved playing the game. I craved the competition – still do. Yet, despite the thrills of victory and the rush of matching strengths with an opponent, the mid-point of each season brought with it feelings of dread. Dread for the routine. Dread for the monotony. Dread for the practicing. As the season wore on I would inevitably grow weary of the work.

Weary because I knew all the plays. I knew my responsibilities. I knew everyone else’s responsibilities, positions, check-downs, blocking schemes and audibles. Practicing became a painful trial of patience. (God must have been preparing me for children) The joy of playing kept me going, but the grind of the daily prep was brutal. The energy and excitement that carried me through early season two-a-days evaporated. All that remained was the mid-season doldrums.

Has your life ever felt like a never-ending string of two-a-days? How about a mid-season practice? Mine has. I feel pressure from a culture of always accessible, available and immediate. The media smorgasbord at my fingertips can be paralyzing. The pull toward bigger, better and more can feel oppressive. Some days are like mid-season practice with Friday night’s lights nowhere in sight.

Like athletic practice, life is work. At times, a slow plodding. As a man, what do I do? What are my options? I see two: get in the game, or ride the pine. Engage or retreat. The choices are simple; the choosing is not. Why? Because for men, this choice is core to the battle for true masculinity. A struggle that pits the curse of passivity against the call to courageous leadership. Passivity clings to men like grease under the finger nails. Add the exhaustion of a two-a-day kind of life and passive retreat becomes very alluring. To some degree, every man hears the whispers that say step-back, sit down, be quiet, play it safe, do it tomorrow, hide. I feel it. My boys feel it. My male friends and mentors feel it. Tragically, it’s part of who we are as sons of Adam.

Every man is strung in the tension between his propensity to be passive and the God-breathed call to work and keep (Genesis 2:15). The call to initiate, risk, lead and love. To protect, make safe and keep secure. To bring real manliness to marriage, parenting, vocation and relationships. This war against passivity is mythic in scope and eternal in affect. Stu Weber said, “The measure of a man is the spiritual and emotional health of his family. A real provider has a vision for a marriage that bonds deeply, for sons with character as strong as trees, and for daughters with confidence and deep inner beauty. Without that vision and leadership, a family struggles, gropes, and may lose its way.” (Tender Warrior, p.29) Biblically authentic, manly living is difficult day-after-day, mid-season work that leaves no room for passivity.

Seventeenth century New England pastor Jonathon Burr suggests, “It is better to wear out with work, than to be eaten out with rust.” Burr and Weber are right. Men must confront, fight and reject passivity. We can’t get rusty. There’s too much at stake. We’ve got a household to keep, a wife to love, children to teach and people to serve. We’ve been called to do the hard and thankless work of laying our lives down for those we love (1 John 3:16). To sacrifice so others might flourish. To put ourselves last.

Men, it’s a two-a-day kind of life. Accept it. Engage it. Embrace it. Don’t settle into a mid-season complacency. It’s our privilege to work and keep. So, let’s get off the bench, play the man, and show our sons – our men-in-training – how it’s done.