The Measure of a Man

Is this a real man?It felt colder than normal that morning as I sat in a circle of inmates inside the Chapel of the maximum security prison.  I was the only “free” man in the group and the emotional flow of the discussion added to the chill that was penetrating my bones.  Myself and six or seven inmates sat in a circle on rickety chairs around a tattered rug with a small wood stump supporting a flickering candle in the middle.  The chapel was a large concrete block space, maybe thirty feet wide, fifty feet and with a ceiling approximately twenty-five feet above the cold hard floor.  The main fluorescent lights were off and the secondary incandescent lighting was dimmed to create a somber yet reverent atmosphere.

It had been serval months, over nine in fact, since we had last gathered.  The result of an “incident” on the yard that ended with several injuries and the inmates “locked down” in their cells – no program, no group time.  This was our first time meeting since the “lock down” and the chill in the air was the grief that each was feeling and expressing about a friend who had been murdered during the time of the “lock down.”  This friend, an inmate had been in our group for many years before being relocated to another Yard at the prison where he was brutally killed by his cell mate.  This first circle back was our first opportunity to share our grief and to honor the spirit of this man who had touched each of us in a special way.

An inmate had a picture of our dead friend and he placed it with honor on a heavy wooden chair that we used as an “alter” in the circle.  This chair was never sat in by members of the group and was placed at the head of the circle as a place of honor for the founders of the work we were carrying on.  We took turns expressing our anger and the grief we each felt for the loss of a dear friend and we shared stories about the man to honor the impact he had on our lives.  A touching and cathartic experience for us all.

What troubles me now as I write this is the selfish feelings I experienced that day.  I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of  appreciation for this fallen brother and the respect that each of the men had for him.  My predominate thought, “Will people miss me like this when I’m gone from this life? Will they gather to tell the stories of how I have affected their lives?”  The selfish pain I was feeling underneath the grief for the dead inmate was that the answer to these questions is, “No.”

My wife will often kid me by saying that “people are always talking about me behind my back.”  Her intent is to good-naturedly tell me that I matter to her and her children.  This has been the core of my inner personal work for the past 22-years but it’s not the point of this blog.  The point is, “What is the Measure of Man?”  This is the question that stuck with me after dealing with those feelings, emotions that morning inside the prison

With this question tugging at my soul the week after that circle inside the prison I came across a book that just so happened to be titled, “The Measure of A Man.”  Go figure.  The full title is “The Measure of a Man, Men Mentoring Me,” by Gene A. Getz.

Pastor Getz presently serves as Senior Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church North, located in Plano, Texas and his ministry career has involved a variety of experiences including Christian education and music ministries, college and seminary teaching. He has also authored over 40 books mostly focused on what it takes to lead a Godly life.

“The Measure of a Man” is an excellent read but it’s true value is if the reader uses the text as a basis for a men’s study group.  The book uses the values presented by the Apostle Paul to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-7 ) and Titus (Titus 1:5-10) that Paul believed to be necessary for godly men.  Dr. Getz explores each of these values and provides an outline for further group exploration and discussion that if followed will help men to clarify what it really means to be a man.

The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task.  2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher,  3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money.  4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way—  5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?  6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil. 1 Timothy NRSV

I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you:  6 someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious.  7 For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain;  8 but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled.  9 He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it. Titus 1: 5-10 NRSV

Dr. Getz has distilled Paul’s letters into the following 20 attribute of a man and then challenges his readers to evaluate themselves in each area. Talk about convicting!

  1. Spiritual maturity (a well rounded man)
  2. Above reproach (a man of good repute)
  3. Husband of one wife (Morally pure)
  4. Temperate (balanced in words and actions)
  5. Prudent (wise and humble)
  6. Respectable (good role model)
  7. Hospitable (unselfish and generous)
  8. Able to teach (communicates sensitively in a non-threatening and non-defensive manner)
  9. Not addicted to wine (not addicted to substances)
  10. Not self-willed (not self-centered and controlling)
  11. Not quick-tempered (void of anger that becomes sinful)
  12. Not pugnacious (Not abusive)
  13. Gentle (sensitive, loving and kind)
  14. Peaceable (non-argumentative and non-divisive)
  15. Free from the love of money (non-materialistic)
  16. Manages his own household well (a good husband and father)
  17. Loving what is good (pursues godly activities)
  18. Just (wise, discerning, non-prejudiced and fair)
  19. Devout (holy, devoted to God)
  20. Self-controlled (Disciplined)

My first reaction was, “there are 20 qualities!” Really?”! I’ve come a long way since my youth and thinking that the only manly quality was physical strength as portrayed by the Charles Atlas ads in the comic books,  but a man is measured by these 20 qualities?  Even with all of the personal growth work I’ve done, first with the New Warrior Adventurer Trainings and more recently the Inside Circle Foundation prison ministry, I had not considered the specifics of what it truly is to be a man in the eyes of God, family and friends.

Dr. Getz’s book opened my mind and heart to the word of God.

“Listen to God’s voice, which is saying, ‘I love you no matter what you’ve done, no matter where you are in your spiritual growth, no matter what your feelings.  I’m on your side, I have not rejected you.  You are my child.  You can become a man of God, and I’m here to help you.’”

Get the book, challenge yourself.  Find a group of like-minded seekers and use the book as a guide for exploring the soul of becoming a man.  Change the world because we need more men who will take responsibility for their lives and not look to or blame others for their situation in life, especially the government.

“The greatest contribution we can make is to be everything God wants us to be as individuals, as families and as local churches.”

In closing I welcome feedback from those who know me.  How do you see me? How do I measure up to the 20 points made by Paul?  Your honesty and truth would be appreciated.

“If you really want to know what I am like, you’ll have to talk to those who really know me.”

(All quotes, with the exception of the two verses from the Holy Bible, are from “A Measure of a Man” by Gene Getz)

A Call for Men of Compassion

I still read the adventures of Prince Valiant every Sunday.

When I was a young boy my favorite book was “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.”  This was a small book, small enough to fit in your pocket and it contained great stories, and engraved pictures about that age of chivalry and adventure.  I was swept up in the mythology of the book and spent considerable time reading and re-reading the book to the point that the small book was becoming “dog eared” and falling apart.  My mother understood how important the book was to me and she took it to a bindery and had the book repaired and an new cover attached with the title embossed in gold. I still have this little volume in my library and I’m looking forward to the day when I can share the stories with my grandchildren.

I couldn’t get enough of this mythology, watching every movie, reading comic books (remember Illustrated Classics?) and even put together plastic models of knights.  To this day I still read “Prince Valiant” comic strips every Sunday morning on my iPad.

The stories of King Arthur and his Knights represented values that I learned, later in life, to hold dear.  These myths defined a world that was intentional, powerful and worth fighting for. These stories about Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere while they were fables still communicated truths that are still relevant today. I knew even as a young boy that the stories weren’t true but I still believed in their moral and I was able to use that understanding to help guide my journey to manhood.

Over the course of the past three years I’ve become aware of a different mythology, a political mythology that isn’t honest, isn’t true and certainly doesn’t espouse moral values.  I own, upfront, my bias in this matter and I find it difficult to identify myths about Liberals.  However, this supports my claim that today what is presented as political truth is in fact nothing more than mythology used to manipulate people into supporting specific politicians or more precisely denouncing the opposition.  I ask that you suspend your immediate reaction to what is presented here and see if through an open mind we might be able to achieve something, together.  I’ll use the mythology applied by the Left to denigrate the Right as a way to illustrate my point.  Please respond with the myths that the Right promote about the Left!

“Paul Ryan and the Republicans want to deprive healthcare for the elderly.”

“The Republican are waging a war on women.”

“The rich don’t pay their fair share of the taxes.”

“People on the Right only care about making money and don’t care about the common man.”

“Conservatives are anti-immigrant.”

“Conservatives hate homosexuals.”

I could fill the rest of this blog with an educated repudiation of each of these myths.  Not a single one of them is true for me or anyone I know who believes in conservative values.  Instead I’m inviting you to participate in a discussion about the core mythology:

“Liberals are compassionate while Conservatives are not.”

There isn’t an issue in our society that can’t be distilled to this fundamental myth.  Regardless of the facts or the costs a Liberal will always believe that their polices are superior because they are certain that they care and we don’t.  For example, take the recent support for gay marriage by President Obama.

A Liberal colleague at work asked what I thought about the President’s recent support for gay marriage and I voiced my objection to changing the meaning of marriage to include same-sex couples.  His response as he walked away, “So you want us all to be miserable.”  Wow, he didn’t ask for an explanation for my beliefs and I didn’t say anything about how I feel about homosexuality; he just made the intellectual leap, driven by his emotions, that if I don’t agree with him then I’m an uncaring, hater of gays.

He is an enlightened and compassionate person while I’m a neanderthal.

How can we deal with any of the challenges that confront this nation if we won’t listen to each other.  In the situation mentioned above I wanted to have my colleague explain his position, I wanted to learn how he would draw the moral line; what was the moral authority for re-defining marriage?  Can brothers and sisters marry?  Is polygamy acceptable?  Can a father marry his daughter?  If we’re going to define marriage in a way that has never been done before then what’s the basis, what’s the authority for the new definition?

The Liberal “compassion myth” wouldn’t allow the man from engaging in a meaningful dialog about the definition of marriage.  He didn’t want to hear that I have the upmost respect for my gay colleagues.  He doesn’t want to learn about the close personal friends I have with men who happen to be homosexuals.  He doesn’t want to hear that I want equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, color, creed or sexual orientation.  He doesn’t want to hear the basis for my belief that marriage isn’t a right protected by the Constitution, it’s an institution.

The Liberal walks away and the ideological gulf widens and with the help of the newspapers and TV we end up with more division, more animosity, less understanding and no solutions.

I’m sick and tired of these spit wad fights ( See my earlier blog entry on this subject, http://wp.me/p1MpDw-n) while “Rome Burns!”  My challenge to all that read these words, especially the men, STAND UP FOR CLARITY.  Exercise true compassion and put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Make every attempt to understand their point of view and how they are directly affected.  Then clearly articulate your position and the basis for your beliefs.  Lose the sound bites and dive into the deep water of understanding.  I’m not asking that you agree, I’m asking that you put down the shield of self-righteousness and listen, to have ears to hear and eyes to see.  For me this is a moral issue that men must step up and be the leaders for creating a safe and positive environment for the exchange of ideas. We as men need to get past the propaganda and the myths we hold dear and clearly define the problems so that we can arrive at sensible and well thought out solutions.

As an architectural student back in the late 60’s I learned that defining the problem clearly, usually resulted in the solution becoming known quickly.  We had to “chew” on the subject for awhile in order to gain clarity but once there, the solution would appear naturally.  We as a nation need to start defining the problems more clearly in order for us to create a more perfect Union.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Omamacare) is a perfect example of how the problem, the question has NOT been clearly defined.  The result is a two thousand page law that no one read and no one can fully understand and that doesn’t actually reduce the cost of healthcare.  If we define the problem as, “We want to reduce the cost of healthcare, maintain and improve that care and make the care available and affordable to all citizens” then we’ll have a dialog that will result in a very different outcome.  We’ll be able to explore what, if anything the Federal Government needs to do (ability to sell insurance across State lines for instance) and what programs and laws can assist in achieving the stated goals at the local and State levels of government.  If we define the problem as ”How can the political class control the lives of the citizens,” then we get Obamacare.  Instead we enflame the situation through our mythologies about the Left being compassionate and the Right wanting to push granny off the cliff.

My humble request is that you join me in the dialog about fatherhood, manhood, the economy, the definition of marriage, or any other social issue.  Respond with your beliefs not your judgments.  Respond with insight and reason about the basis and the authority for your position.

Let’s not hide behind false compassion, let’s stand up for clarity and understanding and be authentically compassionate.  Let’s stop trusting our lives to career politicians and media pundits and reclaim the leadership of this great country.  Join me in picking up the sword of truth and the shield of faith to become the new knights for clarity!

Surrender Doesn’t Mean Defeat

Have you ever been at that point in your life where you have been brought to your knees, where you’ve been crushed by the  circumstances of life?  You’ve used all your skills, all your intellect, all your energy and quite possibly all your money and you still haven’t been able to achieve your goals, to succed.

I don’t know about you but I’ve been there, several times and more than likely I’ll be there again.  If you have been spared this experience then I suggest falling to your knees and thanking God for his mercy and his grace. For me these humbling experiences have taught me an invaluable lesson, I’ve learned that surrender doesn’t mean that I’ve been defeated!

As I sat on a large boulder in the middle of the forest I could feel the cool evening breeze wash over my body in a futile attempt to cool the fires of rage, sadness, fear and disaapointment that flooded through my body.  The frustration and anger I was experiencing was intense and overwelming.  My life was over and I’d lost everything, my career, my marriage, my money, there was nothing left and I was ready to give up, I was defeated.

No matter how hard I tried or how creative I was nothing worked out according to my plan and my expectations.  And now I found myself alone sitting on that rock crying under a canopy of a cloud-filled sky thinking that this was the end of my life and there was nowhere to turn, nothing more that could be done.  I was defeated.

The grief that was pouring out felt limitless and uncontrolable and all I could do was to bring myself to my feet and stand on that rock with arms reaching to the sky and from the deepest darkest resevoire of loss yell, “God why me, please take me. I beg you to end this suffering! I have no more to give, I’m finished. Oh God please!”

This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced this level of loss in fact this was only the most recent in a long line of experiences where I felt defeated and lost despite my best efforts to achieve my goals, to capture the brass ring,  to reap the rewards of a successful life.  What felt different this time was I was intensly aware of the pain and I was completely worn out from repeatedly picking myself up and making another attempt.

That day, on that mountain, I felt alone, empty and devoid of any hope.  I had nothing left in the tank and I felt defeated.  I was a failure and I no longer was tuff enough to keep on going through the tuff stuff.

Even though I’d been here before the difference this time was that I had spent the last three years exploring what it meant to be a man, to be me.  I had come face-to-face with  the reality of my life and how I had been unconsciously allowing my actions to hide who I was and how that in turn hurt the people in my life.  With the help of some powerful men I was learning to understand and embrace my emotions.  These men were my “mirrors” to how unaccountable  I was and how I lacked integrity.  I was learning to be authentic!  I was becoming in Native American terms a “hollow bone,” fully alive, stripped of all pretense, and rid of the armour of self doubt.  I was vulnerable and open making this mountaintop experience  almost unbearable.  Yet there was still apart of me, an ancient belife that it was all up to me and if I couldn’t become “successful” then I must be a failure and that I was just taking up space on this planet.

So, I stood on that rock sobbing, shouting to the overcast sky when all of a sudden the clouds parted and I found myself bathed in bright sunlight and I instantly felt the warm yet unfamilar sense of hope flow through my body.  Being so open and aware of my emotions resulted in me feeling an intense rush of energy as I stood there on that rock. My heart and mind were filled with the awareness that the answer to my life challenges was not about trying harder.  The truth was, and is that I’m a broken man and I need something greater than myself to live fully, I need God!  I must surrender to Him and His plan.

The tears subsided and I became quite,  standing still on that rock arms outstreched to the sky.  It was at that moment that I finally understood that I wasn’t alone and that there was a God.  God would provide me with opportunity and friends to help me but it was up to me to take advantage of these opprtunities to ask for the help and at the same time know that I must have faith in God to become the man He always intended me to be.  The great masculine paradox, I must be resourceful and responsible while surrendering to God, and in so doing understand that, “I am not defeated!”