What does it mean to be a man?

Image from Ron Swanson Says… check out their stuff.

I was inspired to write this after reading a little piece by Ben Howard on manhood titled “Ron Swanson is a Man“. I love the Ron Swanson character from Parks and Recreation.  I have for a long time been asking this question so I thought I’d answer: what does it mean to be a man?

Since I’m one year away from graduation and dating the girl of my dreams, it seems a good time to learn what it means to grow up. But there’s a lot more to manhood than that. In this post, I want to share my thoughts about both what it means to grow into manhood, and what responsibilities come with my sex.

Is a real man like Ron Swanson? Arnold Schwarzenegger? …Justin Bieber? I say none of the above. Let me explain…

Contrasting manhood with boyhood

Lesson 1 in being a man is “Grow up”!

“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11

Image courtesy of kwanie on Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Piggybacking off of Raising a Modern Day Knight, the four things that change from childhood to manhood are that a man:

  • rejects passivity (proactivity)
  • accepts responsibility
  • leads courageously (leadership)
  • expects the greater reward (investment)

These four principles – proactivity, responsibility, leadership, and investment – aren’t all that is good in a man, nor are they unique to men, but they distinguish man from boy. A child complains until he’s fed; a man goes out and makes a living (1 Timothy 4:8). A child tries to blame; a man recognizes that he can always improve (Proverbs 19:20). A child waits to be told right from wrong; a man leads others on the path. A child wants to be satisfied now; a man can delay gratification (Isaiah 40:31).

A real man waits for the right time, and when his time has come, he rises to the occasion.

Contrasting manhood with womanhood

Lesson 2 in being a man is “with great power comes great responsibility!”

“You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life…” – 1 Peter 3:7

Image courtesy of April Killingsworth on Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Let’s face it: men and women are different. As obvious as this should be just in biological terms, our “enlightened” society doesn’t really seem to reflect this anymore. Don’t get me wrong; a lot of our cultural reaction to the male-female stereotyping of previous generations is warranted. That’s why it’s important to reason very carefully about gender roles from what we know to be different.

Men and women are of the same spirit and have the same inheritance of life (Galatians 3:28, Mark 12:251 Peter 3:7), but have different physical strength (1 Peter 3:7), different mental patterns (Women are better multitaskers; men are more focused), and different emotional structure. And of course, there are different roles when it comes to making babies. Naturally, the Bible recognized different social roles for men and women (Titus 2, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5).

Men are stronger, more focused, and more emotionally detached than women. This is just due to biology, and it just makes sense morally that the way God created you should effect who you are. A man who accepts the physicality given to him by God will:

  • Gird himself in strength – training physically, emotionally, and intellectually
  • Focus and lead others as he follows the Lord
  • Respond with even temper and be the first to take responsibility

People who don’t think women should work need to read about the ideal Proverbs 31 woman again (Prov 31:16,24). Sorry; side-track. I just think men in western culture often times define themselves and their manhood by their careers, and it’s not supposed to be that simple. Manhood is so much deeper than just: “I man. I work.” It’s about strength, focus, and leadership.

But hold your horses…

It’s more important to be a child of God than it is to be a man in America.

Hear that? Who inherits the kingdom of heaven? NOT MEN it turns out! Remember? “…unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 18:3)

So don’t try to be a man like Ron Swanson; don’t even try to be a great man like William Wilberforce. Be the kind of man Jesus was.

Relationships 2.0: the dating game is screwed up

To start this series at the very beginning, I have very little respect for the way our culture handles relationships and marriage. If you want to see why, look no farther than your TV screen…

The Bachelor

And now I’m forced to admit it publicly… yes, I watched an episode of the Bachelor on Hulu. (I know, I know, stone me now…) To me, it was the most radical statement about what’s wrong with dating culture in America. 20 girls all date the same guy at the same time. They go on the world’s most amazing dates in some of the most beautiful parts of the planet, and most of them fall in love and get heart broken when they don’t get a rose.

Thankfully, most people don’t use this system for finding their soulmate. We all recognize that this is a really dumb way to meet the person you plan to marry.  But, without really thinking about it, Americans, even those who genuinely want to get married, fall prey to all the same problems by treating dating like it’s a game.

How cultural dating turns out like the TV show

Now I said most of The Bachelor‘s girls fall in love, but I didn’t mean they fall in love with the man in front of them. Nooooo… they fall in love with his TV personality, or the kiss of way to much experience, or the amazing scenery, or the adrenaline of an adventure date. Seriously; they put themselves in situations where you’re going to fall in love with something. A lot of people call this “infatuation.”

They kiss; they talk about the scenery, but never do they talk about anything that helps them decide if their relationship will actually work. When was the last time a contestant talked about their religious convictions, checked if they were on the same page about children, where they wanted to spend the rest of their life, or any of the other important “boring” stuff?

</ end rant about the bachelor>

Ok… here are what I see as the top myths about dating in our culture:

Myth 1: Dating is just entertainment. Just like in the Bachelor, people go on dates someplace beautiful. They watch a stirring movie or a beautiful sunset and then look at their date and say “this person makes me feel amazing.” No kidding… what were you expecting? Entertainment dating is a horrible litmus test for whether you would work married to a person. Do you think you’ll feel the same way watching the local news with your spouse?

And the sad part about it is that you can have a lot of fun asking hard questions. Toni and I talked for five hours the first time I asked her and I can say I really enjoyed that time. This doesn’t mean we don’t watch sunsets or movies (the new Spiderman was pretty legit) or go out to eat, but it does mean that our focus is different.

Myth 2: All that matters is us, baby. Most couples spend a lot of time looking into each other’s eyes. But a couple doesn’t exist in a bubble; it’s important to hang out with other people and I think it’s especially important to hang out with your families. It’s also really important to get some outside perspective from friends.

Myth 3: It’s in his kiss. It is really easy to get fooled on a one-on-one date. That’s one reason it’s important to be around other people, but also why I’m a big fan of dating friends. And, no, contrary to the infallible wisdom of 60s pop music, you can’t tell whether the guy is good and really loves you from his kiss.

And then there’s shacking up. Always confused me… Maybe I’ll write about what’s wrong with cohabitation later. Basically, everything’s all casual until we want to be married, but then we won’t get married, just pretend… because marriage is special. Whaaaaat? Yeah, I am not doing that.

Purposeful dating

When I first approached Toni about this relationship, I asked if she was interested in “courting.” The reason I was using this kind of vocabulary is because I definitely didn’t want the cultural norm in “dating.” But let’s be honest; there’s no point in being counter-cultural just for the sake of being counter-cultural.

I think the term we’re using now is “purposeful dating.” That really highlights the key difference between us and the world: we’re not just playing around. If you really value your date, then you won’t treat this like a game.

But don’t worry… that doesn’t mean things can’t be fun. I think, and Toni agrees, that we have a blast. This is a really important principle for the rest of life, too: It turns out that living for a purpose is more fun that just living to have fun. (make sense?)

This has been a pretty negative post. It pretty much summarizes why I see a need to think so carefully about how relationships should work. But more positive stuff is coming… trust me. Leave some comments! Maybe share what you think the solution to these problems is…

And, to end this post, a “hey christian girl” meme: