Truth and Honesty

So, I’ve mentioned before that I don’t post comments on this blog, but I welcome people to send them to me. On my last post I received the following comment from fatgirlsblog:

I think your on the right track by admitting your not attracted to the lady. If I may make a suggestion…be truthful and tell her. That will hurt her “a little” instead of a lot later.
Great honest post. :-)

First of all, I want to thank you for the comment, the advice, and the encouragement. I plan to be honest with her. Tactful, but honest. I am hoping that she feels the same way. That will make everything much easier. However, whether she does or not, I think she’ll be better off if I’m honest with her, so that’s what I plan to do.

I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with my view of women, largely because the majority of women in my life haven’t been truthful with me. So, much as it’s difficult to risk hurting someone, I believe strongly in honesty and openness at an level of a relationship, whether it’s only a friendship, a burgeoning romance, or a full-on romantic relationship. I think that’s it for me today, but I did want to make sure that I responded to that particular comment.

What Does it Mean to be a Man? Part Two

I think in really seeking to answer this question the first thing we have to ask is what kinds of things define true masculinity. For instance, should we say that a man is defined by his belongings? By his appearance? By his abilities? Etc. What are the kinds of things that are important for true masculinity? This is, of course, a topic that many people spend time talking and writing about. However, I think that we can weed out a few of these on very basic grounds. First of all true manhood cannot be defined by one’s belongings simply because, if it was, a father could die leaving everything he owns to his 2 week old son and that 2 week old must then be considered a man. Obviously it is ridiculous to consider a two week old a man, and so we can throw out ‘belongings’ as a key to manhood without further question. The same argument could be used for position. If a king died and his 3 month old inherited the crown he obviously could not be considered either a man or a king, this is why we used to appoint regents. So, we can determine that traits which exist solely outside of the individual (i.e. money, status, reputation, etc) do not constitute the basis for manhood, and at the same time we can also conclude that age has at least some influence (even if only a negative one) on determining manhood. That is to say, while age may not be able to tell us who is a man, it can certainly tell us who is not a man.

Assuming then that manhood is defined by one or some combination of the internal qualities of a man we must determine what those qualities are. In brief these qualities may be listed as: appearance (or a man’s physical body), abilities (or the combination of his natural physical, mental, and social capacities), skills (or those facilities which he has learned through study and/or experience), emotions (or the feelings and moods that characterize him), and character (or the traits which affect his capacity and willingness to employ both his internal and external means to a task). Taking these in order we can first ask if appearance could be considered a test of manhood. Certainly men do have a distinct appearance and there are clear physical differences that distinguish males. However, there are also some males who are easily mistaken for females and vice versa. Clearly the normal distinguishing features of males and females used in everyday society (i.e. the presence of excess flesh in the breasts in females, or excess hair on the face, along stronger and wider builds and features in males) cannot be used as a determination of true masculinity because these features are not universal. There are men with excess flesh in the breasts and women with excess hair on the face. Similarly, the mere presence or absence of a penis cannot be considered a determination of true masculinity, because this returns us to the same problem as the external factors (i.e. infant males have them, but aren’t considered men).

Similarly, we must clearly reject abilities as a true mark of manhood because this would remove the enfeebled from the possibility of true masculinity. The history of the world is rife with males of inferior physical and social capabilities who can nonetheless be called great men, and certainly are true men. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the first man who comes to mind. While his was physically enfeebled he stands still today as a giant in the minds of many. Certainly there are many others for whom the same could be said. There are many theological, mystical, and scientific figures of great stature who were socially inept or physically handicapped. The only ability that could potentially be considered here as a determination of true masculinity would be mental acuity (simply because I cannot think of an example to counter it), but I must reject even that because again a person of great intelligence may be a cretin and a worthless person. I will say that at a certain point, like age, intelligence may become a determining factor in what is not a man. For instance, a male with an IQ of ten is incapable of doing anything. He has an appearance, but no physical, mental, or social abilities, no skills nor the ability to accrue skills, and no character of which to speak. Thus we may conclude that this male is, for all intents and purposes, a child (at best) and certainly not a man. However, I think that this could only be used in extreme cases for those whose intelligence keeps them at a very low developmental level. For instance, I do not know of any culture modern or historical in which a five year old could be considered a man, and thus a male whose IQ would not allow him to develop past the capacity of a five year old could not be considered truly a man.

I think that’s probably enough for today. I’ll address the internal qualities of skills, emotions, and character later.

What Does it Mean to be a Man?

In modern America we have no clear concept of manhood. There are a thousand different voices shouting from a thousand different directions about what they think manhood should be. There are people who think that a boy becomes a man when he can grow a beard. There are people who think a boy becomes a man when he makes his first million. There are people who think that having sex makes a boy into a man. There are people who think that having a large penis is the real mark of manhood. There are people who think that taking another human life makes a boy into a man. There are people who think that a first job makes a boy a man. All of these point to the desire for a rite of passage. A clear marker of the shift from childhood into adulthood (and lets be honest here, simply saying that a child becomes an adult at 18 is both arbitrary and ridiculous).

However, even if we accept any one of these rites of passage, there is still no clear idea of what manhood is or what it means to actually be a man. American culture of the mid 20th century argued that manhood meant a desire to acquire and possess a modest amount of meaningful things (this is exemplified in the entertainment of the day which focuses strongly on the ‘desire of a man’ to own his own home). Of course, if we run the clock back a hundred years then the mark of a man was not owning a home, but owning land and buidling his own home upon it. However, ownership of anything seems ridiculous as a mark of manhood. Ownership of land, a home, a car, etc says nothing about who the person actually is or of what he is capable. Ancient rites of passage emphasized a trial of ability instead of a test of means.

This can be seen in the rites of many tribal groups which provide a task of some kind for the boy to complete. He may have to hunt and kill a bear, build a canoe to escape a deserted island and return to his home island, or survive in the wilderness on his own for a period of time. This is certainly a better mark of manhood. These tests of ability also show some degree of the character of the individual. Hunting a bear requires great courage. Building a canoe requires patience. Surviving in the wilderness requires endurance and determination. These trials both test the individuals ability to be a positive addition to the tribe and aspects of his character that are important in each particular culture.

This is a part of the problem we have in America. Every voice shouting about manhood has a different idea about what aspects of character are important. Some of them emphasize wildness, some emphasize greed, some emphasize brutality, etc. Some of them really say nothing about the character of the individual (i.e. getting your first job). The problem is that we don’t have any clear idea concerning what a man is, and thus we don’t have any clear idea concerning how to identify a man. Hopefully, over the next few days, I can codify my own thoughts on this and at least have some clear idea of what I see as manly and why.

Lies, All Lies!

This afternoon I was overwhelmed by the crushing certainty that I am always going to be alone. I am old (well, comparatively to many of my friends) and still somewhat overweight, even though I exercise regularly and work hard not to overeat. I don’t make much money, and a lot of the time I still feel like I don’t have much to offer. I understand that it’s unlikely that I will ever marry a young, beautiful woman. Sometimes that hurts, and sometimes I’m honestly not sure that I want to. However, this emotional certainty that I would always be alone filled a part of my day with pain. It passed quickly enough, much like the majority of such lies, but left behind desires that I would rather not entertain, also much like the majority of such lies.

Life is often painful. We all have lies that we’ve built up over the years, lies that are buried deep in our psyche and help to form our fundamental self-image. These lies might come from old pains, from rejections, from childhood traumas… whatever. The lies that we believe can spring from any number of sources and none of them make those lies valid or true (they are two different things). I’ve often believed the lie that I have nothing to offer women, that I’m just not what women want, by citing the many rejections that I have under my belt. Honestly, this often seems like a valid defense for this lie, but sometimes I have to wonder. There have been times that this challenged my trust… honestly there are still times that it challenges my trust. Rejection can be very difficult to deal with. It can tear you apart quickly and easily, and sometimes that leaves you with little to hold on to. Enough rejection and it’s easy to start assuming that you will be rejected. This isn’t just true with women, but with every aspect of life. It’s easy to assume that you’ll be rejected at everything you do.

Honestly, I can count the number of times someone has tried to set me up on one hand. Heh, I used to ask some of my closer friends to set me up. I had one friend who used to tell me repeatedly that she ‘didn’t know anyone good enough for me’… I quickly took this to mean ‘I don’t know anyone on whom I’d inflict you’. The thing is this has more to do with me than it ever did with her… well, a little… honestly I’ve never been very sure that this particular friend likes me very much. I know that she loves me, but I’m not sure that she actually likes me. Still, it’s probably likely that this is more me than her also.

As I said, all of this has challenged by trust for God in the past, and it continues to challenge that trust. I still wonder if I’m going to be alone forever. I’m still not comfortable with that thought. I know that God should be sufficient. That I should be joyful in the midst of my doubt and in my loneliness. It’s still a challenge though. I am getting much better at rejoicing in the midst of pain, but this is still something of which I’m terrified. I even pointed out the other day that God told me to wait, that it wasn’t time yet for him to bring the right woman into my life. Of course, this all implies that there is actually reason to hope. Still, there are days when I trust and hope, and then there are days when I’m thoroughly terrified of being eternally alone.

I’m also just afraid of rejection in general. I finally started my application to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (for next fall) and, halfway through, was thoroughly convinced that there is no way they will let me in. I’m too old, I don’t do enough in the church, I don’t read enough, my grades are too low, I’m in too much debt, etc, etc, etc. I think about a hundred reasons why they would reject me ran through my head. Needless to say, I didn’t quite finish the application, though I got through more than half of it. Nonetheless, I knew that starting it would be difficult, this is why I started a full year before I hope to start. My goal is to have the application done my the end of the month, and then go from there. I’m terrified, and fairly certain that I won’t be able to hack it even if, by some miracle, they do let me in.

Here’s the thing though, with both woman and with seminary. I’ve been rejected… a lot… in both areas of my life, but God has grown me in the past seven years. Part of that growth has come through repeated rejections. Nonetheless, I know that if he wants me in seminary, then he will put me there, and I know that when he will put me there. It will probably take a miracle to get me back into school, and it will probably take a miracle for any woman to fall for me. However, God is in the business of miracles. It’s what he does, and he knows when best to perform them. So, all I can do is trust him and wait.

They Say That to Love Another Person…

So, I finally got around to watching the new Les Miserables tonight and I have to say that it is nothing short of amazing. However, my favorite line, at the death of Jean Valjean, is ‘to love another person is to see the face of God’. Not only is this a wonderful line, but I honestly think its true. I was going to write about Javert’s suicide and the loss of belief tonight, and I think that’ll make it in as well, but the love of Jean Valjean is just as important.

I’m not superman. I’ve had to learn that the hard way. I want to rescue people from themselves, to help people, to make them better, and ultimately… I can’t. I can’t make people change, and I can’t make them better, and every time I try I wind up trying to impose my will onto them. I understand both characters in this story very well. I understand both love and hate pretty well, and that is what Javert and Jean Valjean embody.

I’ve written some about my past before, and I think I’ve mentioned that I used to hate… everything. For a long time all I knew how to do was hate. I hated people, God, myself, the world… all the people I should have loved I hated. I’d never known love, never understood it, and never felt it, and it took a long time for me to come to terms with feeling anything other than hate. Feelings are frightening things.

However, as much as I used to hate, now I can’t seem to stop myself from loving. My friend that I mentioned the other day, the one with all the problems, I love her. I love my roommate that stole money from me. I thought about knifing him for a while, but the anger passed pretty quickly, and the love remains. I love my students, and my family, and my friends. I love the people at my favorite coffee shop. I just love people, even when I don’t particularly want to.

And I completely agree that to love someone is to see the face of God. Trusting God means trusting people, and loving God means loving people. There’s no getting away from that. The  apostle said as much in 1st John. If you hate your brother then you hate God, and if you love God then you love your brother. It’s taken be a long time for me to actually begin to understand that, and I really think that I am just beginning to understand it.

It’s hard to lose the thing that defines you. I’ve been through this a few times. Javert lost his conviction that people  cannot change. “Once a thief, always a thief” was the mantra that filled his heart, and when Jean Valjean proved him wrong it killed him in more ways than one. I lost my hate a long time ago. God made me let it go, and then my suspicion, my anger, now my pain. These are the things that defined me, that shaped my life. ‘Everyone lies’, ‘People are evil’, ‘She’ll hurt you’, ‘Everyone leaves’, ‘No one cares’, ‘There’s no point in trying’, ‘I’ve always been alone’… these were the mantras that filled my heart, just like Javert’s. They aren’t entirely untrue, but they also aren’t entirely true. Certainly they aren’t principles to build a life around.

Love is a much better principle to build a life around. The thing is, love doesn’t reject most of those principles. It simply doesn’t care. People are evil… love them anyway. Everyone does lie… love them anyway. She might hurt you… love her anyway. They might leave… love them anyway. Love the people who don’t care, the people who walk away, the people who fight (God knows I did). Why? Because that’s all of us. That’s me as much as any of them, so why should’t I love them?

Right now, I can’t think of a reason.