Today, as I was holding my two year old son in my arms, I was wondering what kind of man I aspired him to be. Do I want him to be successful? Or just a nice guy? Or a fighter? Or a moral man? Then a more frightening thought entered my mind…he’ll probably be a lot like me.
Not that I consider myself a bad guy, or even one free of any virtues, but I do know I’m a “work in progress”. And the thought of my children looking to me and sculpting their own image of manhood makes me an uneasy. As a husband and father, I have no option to “opt-out”. I am going to be their mainstay for masculinity, whether I like it or not.
This brings me to my next point, which is that as Christian men, there are numerous different voices telling us what masculinity means for us. Preachers, teachers, and various authors expound on the many ways men need to “man up”, or embrace Biblical manhood. For many…I get it. They need a kick in the pants to grow up and take their responsibility as a father and husband seriously.
However, as much as this direction is needed in people’s lives, I find that what the Christian culture is doing is attacking a symptom of the problem, not it’s root.
In the orthodox christian life, one’s total humanity in all of it’s characteristics is to imitate Christ. Every part of our make-up, whether masculine or feminine is an icon of Christ. This means that our thoughts, actions and speech is to be an expression of the Holy Trinity. This is also why family, community and “otherness” is important to the Christian life, because these expressions of Christ are only seen through each other and only magnify God through one another.
So, to get to the point…I’m learning to be a better husband, for I am an icon of Christ to my wife. I’m learning to be a better father because I am an icon of Christ to my children. My masculinity isn’t a byproduct of my “personal relationship with Christ”, for there is no compartmentalization within my existence, but it is a very extension of my divine life. So, when I define masculinity, I don’t do it in terms of cultural contrast, but divine contrast. I look at Christ in His incarnation and define my role as a husband, father and male from there.
In practical terms, this means when I lead my family, I lead with humility and a servant’s heart. It means when I discipline, I discipline with grace and mercy. It means when I’m wrong, I lower myself to the greater authority of my God and my King. I admit my mistakes, I swallow my pride and bear my cross as Jesus Christ did. There’s no shame in admitting that the masculine roles that we are in are not defined by cultural norms but by Christ and those men throughout history who clothed themselves with His incarnational characteristics.
There are some Christian teachers today who want a Jesus who would bare-knuckle box, wrestle bears and pounds His chest like an alpha male gorilla. But their picture of Christ is devoid of the Christ we see in the gospels and through the apostles. He is a Christ imagined through a cultural lens that has made Jesus to be a Golden Calf, made in the image of what we desire, not what He really was. Jesus was a man, yes, but He was unlike any other men before him or any man after Him. We seek to become one with Him and we do not do so through cultural norms, but by subverting them and taking any dominant role as males as martyrdom and servanthood.
When my son grows up, I don’t really care if his manliness exceeds my own or doesn’t. All I care is that he emanates Christ from every part of his being. The rest will follow.