15.6.09

A Dangerous Betrayal


I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.
And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self -
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time,
only time can help 
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long difficult repentance...

- D.H. Lawrence

The speaker was telling the audience that men are "hard-wired" for this or that.  Exsqueeze me? Hard-wired?  I wanted to scream my best D.H. Lawrence: I AM NOT A MECHANISM! I AM NOT A MECHANISM! But I did not for those gathered around me were hanging by a wire on his every word.  The longer I listened the more despondent I grew because yet another major voice was viewing men in a mechanistic way and then prescribing various things that would repair the wrongly working mechanism. Now the speaker was going to great lengths to assure us that he didn't want to fix us, but our words betray us, do they not?

And lest you think it specific to men, I heard a woman say that about herself just the other day: Well, I know I'm hard-wired for... We often talk of our personal operating systems and days when we're not hitting all cylinders and seasons where I need to unplug or recharge my batteries...I could go on, but I won't.  I've even heard it said of late that the church needs to reboot.  Dear lord.  We've swallowed this not-so-healthy fruit and taken it to heart and out of the heart proceedeth a view of ourselves that couldn't be more fallen: we are mechanisms or at least mechanistic.

No, my friends. We are souls. And if we are ill, and I believe we are, then I agree with Lawrence; it is because of wounds...to the deep emotional self.  And therein lies one of the struggles for us; we'd rather not look there. The deeps have a tendency to be dark and moist and scary. 

The other struggle is this:
only time can help 
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance...

Who has time anymore?  We're not patient.  And that certain long difficult repentance stuff? Goodhellamighty, we're just not hard-wired for that.  Now you might think it different in groups of people who go on and on about how much they love Jesus, but for the most part, when the music fades, it's not. As Jim Harrison has said, "We like to count spiritual coup and then get on with it."

15 comments:

  1. John,

    I think we do have hard-wiring. It's biology and the habit of living in a broken world that causes an "emotional muscle memory" (That's a horrid phrase) which runs counter to God's. Behavior by behavior we cut synapitic paths, and hard wire ourselves with broken responses.

    Sanctification,then, is that slow repentance. I believe that sanctification happens on a nuerological level. The Holy Spirit prompts us to behave counter to our wiring, and new choices are discoveres, new wiring is laid, synapse by synapse.

    We are mechanism (animal).
    But we are also spirit.

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  2. Personally, I find that phrases like "hard-wired" and "recharge my batteries" are very apt descriptors of what the speakers are typically attempting to convey.

    But that's just me.

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  3. I think John's point is much of Male American Christian (MAC?) lexicon revolves around the very masculine idea of approaching spirituality like a car engine, or some other typically macho symbol: "Find the problem and fix it."

    When it comes to God, the metaphor only works if God is the mechanic. We may think we can tinker around - and maybe we can make some minor quick fixes - but eventually we need to trust someone else to heal (or repair) us.

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  4. Larry,

    Well, maybe. But like the winner of the rat race still being a rat, the new wiring laid still leads to a machine. I follow your language (bio/chem major in college) and yes, redemption occurs right down to the marrow and beyond...but I'm concerned at how that language diminishes us; it leads to phrases like 24/7 (another horrid phrase) and always feeling like we have to be "on", etc. For me, it leads away from that difficult brilliance of being "human"...

    But I raise my chalice to you in respect - a man who can use "synapse" or it's derivative three times in a comment is someone I'd gladly fight beside...

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  5. Jordan, I always feel bad when I debate you, because you're obviously a great guy and certainly are smarter than me. I mean that sincerely. Yet it probably appears that I intentionally seek out areas where we disagree. But here I go again ;)

    God happens to be taking me through this very issue the last couple of years. I have learned that men are meant, by God, to fix things. This is very hard for me, because I grew up without a dad and have never had it modeled for me. My lack in this area has led to indecisiveness, which has led to many other problems in life, work, relationships, you name it. But I am convinced that God is working on me in this area, stretching me, molding me.

    While we are all individuals, there are doubtless some characteristics that God has meant for men to have, and the ability to have a can-do mindset, to take care of problems, to "fix" things, is one of them. The most feminist-minded women I have ever known still looked to me to kill a spider or change a tire if I was around. It's part of God's design. However, a lack of a father, at least in my case, has suppressed that part of the design, and He is exposing it so I can be the man He wants me to be. I could go on for an hour explaining all the ways He has revealed this over the past 20 months, but I will stop here.

    I say all this because I take issue with your use of the word "macho" in your comment above. Obviously, I am taking that word to be a negative, derisive, description of what is essentially a God-given attribute of manhood.

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  6. The end of Christianity then wouldn't becoming a perfected machine, but a animal/animus hybrid that lives in friendship with God and other.

    I don't think there is anything diminishing about acknowledging that we are animals possessing instincts and drives.

    We are diminished when we believe that that's all we are.

    @Jordan-- The problem with the MAC lexicon is that we observe cultural manifestations of masculinity and baptize them as Biblical absolutes. God never gives a definition of maleness beyond "hey you with the penis." He simply tells us to assess who it is we are and then to love him with it.

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  7. I think the terminology comes from how technologically dependent we've all (men, women, the Church) become. We're like little cyborgs constantly plugged into ipods and cell phones, when we're away from our computers and televisions. Unlike machines, though, we have the ability to choose how and when to act. Yes, there are certain "hard-wired" tendencies perhaps, but for the most part they're not absolutes. It is a danger to think of ourselves as machines. We're not just another cog in the system. We have feelings. Our need to "reboot" isn't just to physically sleep, it's a spiritual and emotional recharging that we need.

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  8. Larry said:
    God never gives a definition of maleness beyond "hey you with the penis."

    Larry, are you sure about this? I see it differently. I see many examples of God telling us how men should be and how women should be. I don't deny the cultural roots of many so-called hard-wired masculine attributes, of course. But that description doesn't apply to 100% of them.

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  9. James,

    Oh, man, I hate that you would feel bad. I can't tell you how much enjoy the opposing voice you bring to these posts. I think maybe you have a contrarian streak like me. I want Burnside to be questioning everything, but I know I often become just as stubborn as someone like Jerry Falwell.

    First, I'll say my use of the word "macho" was not intended derogatorily. Basically, I was looking for another word besides 'masculine' (which I'd already used). And 'masculine' is not negative in my opinion.

    My issue with that typical MAC mindset is it is always along gender lines: men are this way, women are another way.

    There is plenty of truth to this, of course. Men and women are, on average, created differently.

    To me, though, it comes down more to personality types. I am not someone who naturally fixes things. I may kill a spider or mow the lawn, but I do not feel especially suited for those things. On average, I am more natural at stereotypically "female" attributes: empathy, intuition, idealism.

    Likewise, I know plenty of women who are more dominant than I am, more naturally suited leaders and pragmatic thinkers (all of which are stereotypically "male" attributes).

    It's not that "fix it" thinking is bad. "Fix it" certainly has its place, even with grace, because performing actions often leads to mental and spiritual change. For instance, if you physically remove a temptation, it will help you avoid that temptation.

    It's just that's only part of the process. If you lust and you pluck out your own eye, you'll be unable to look at others lustfully. But being blind does not make you a follower of Christ, it just eliminated that particular sin.

    To sum up, the typical MAC ministry program seems to focus so much on what it means to be a certain type of man. While certain types of men are going to be dramatically impacted by those sorts of programs, it ignores large portions of men who don't naturally fit along those same lines. If that's happening, then those programs are not addressing what it means to be a man; they're addressing a specific personality group culture has deemed "masculine".

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  10. I’m not sure if I want to jump in on this one because I see the point being made and agree to some extent. If we start thinking in terms of machinery, then a hypothetical soldering gun is all that’s needed to make repairs. At least I think this is the point you are making.

    However, I also think these machinery terms are the reverse anthropomorphic descriptions we use to explain our ideas. But let’s be honest, it goes the other way too. How many people have computers that “are thinking,” or a mobile device that’s not “talking with the network,” or an iPhone that’s having a bad hair day? (Okay, we all know iPhones don’t have bad hair days, I’ll give you that one.) Not only have we taken on mechanical ideas, we’ve put human ideas into mechanical things.

    [And by the way, someone mentioned being “on.” I’ve never thought that was a reference to a computer or machine, but instead to coffee. In the old days when people drank drip coffee, there was a phrase about the coffee being like a diner being open for business. It the Army we’d ask the mess cooks if the coffee was on as a way of saying, “hey, do you mind if we come into the MKT (mobile kitchen trailer) to shoot the bull, drink a cup, and warm up.]

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  11. James,

    I see a handful of verses in Paul about how husbands and wives should relate to each other. But those verses aren't descriptors of masculinity and femininity-- otherwise you'd need to marry to become male or female.

    I don't see a handbook on becoming a guy. You are going to have to chapter and verse me into compliance.

    I could suffer the wrongness that comes with low levels of testosterone. Who knows?

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  12. oh what a tangled web we weave when at first we do try to untangle the web of what is transcendent and what is culturally bound as we look at patriarchal culturally constrained Bible, seeking to apply it to the 21st century as we bring to sociology, chemistry, textual criticism, and poetry to the table.

    The dangers reside on both sides of this argument in my opinion. To declare that we're not a machine is wonderfully true. To conclude from that declaration that we're not created with gender specific characteristics or callings is what, presumptuous? politically correct? lacking in objective scientific evidence? Men tend towards a playing field, as do women. We know this both from science (different hormonal balances in men and women affect more than our sexuality right?) and general observation (two daughters, one son - vast differences, and when they were tiny tots, we didn't have a TV, so it wasn't from watching Sesame Street)

    On the other hand, it's a hugely dangerous road to overgeneralize and ever conclude that "all men must..." When we go down that road, we run the risk of wildly missing the mark, as John rightly points out.

    I'm just uncomfortable with the absolutist language - yes we're spirit... and hormones, and muscles, and testosterone and estrogen in unique balances that vary wildly by gender, stage of life, time of day, and whether you drank milk or soy milk for breakfast.

    Absolutism on either side of this ledge seems to be a slippery slop indeed - or perhaps I'm completely missing the point. If so, please help.

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  13. Larry and Jordan:

    I want to be clear: for the most part, I agree. Much of what we insist are God-given male attributes are cultural, not biblical. But I think proper godly manliness is in there. I'm at work now and can't go into it, for lack of time.

    Jordan, I understand that many men are the way they are, anti-macho, whatever macho is, because God made them that way. But some are different from what God has made them to be, as a result of some past hurts. In my case, and I want to emphasize that it's particular to me, indecisiveness has caused problems, and God has revealed to me that this shortcoming is related to the absence of a father, and it has resulted in symptoms such as a reluctance to try to fix anything. Thus the placement of me, by God in His loving grace, into situations where I am way out of my comfort zone. This isn't about fitting a cultural stereotype, but about healing of past hurts, and it's about me being who God wants me to be (see Ephesians 2:10).

    Just as it's wrong, even Phariseeical, for traditional types to assign certain attributes to men and women beyond what God has designed us for, it's very possible to adopt an extreme position in opposition to that perspective, and show disdain for people for being too macho, feminine, masculine, girly-girl, etc.
    Not that anyone here did that. But I saw a leaning that way in Jordan's first post. I only posted all this in the interest of clarification of my earlier comments.

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  14. Richard, I didn't see any evidence of absolutism in anyone's post.

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