Union of the masculine and feminine qualities constitutes completeness.—Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p.57
Some believe that life's milestones shape the man—his first date, first job, fatherhood. For, a Christian Science practitioner and teacher who lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, such events may have been the crucibles that tested him. For Keith, though, the true tests come almost daily, in choosing whether to define selfhood in spiritual or material terms. He and staff writer Warren Bolon recently talked and exchanged e-mails about manhood and the choices we make. Here are excerpts from their exchange.
Have you had any"aha moments" that gave you insights about manhood as having a spiritual basis?
Having grown up in a Christian Science family where the term spiritual was familiar, the "aha moments" in my life have been about learning, as radical as it sounds, that my only selfhood is spiritual, and how pure spirituality affects my life. I remember as a teenager reading Science and Health in my bedroom, then walking into my dad's study and declaring, "There is only one man!" He looked at me and said, "Yes, just one." I knew I'd found a great spiritual truth, and that gave me a tremendous sense of peace, and a feeling of power as well.
That same spiritual peace and power have helped me heal myself and others for many years now. I learned then that there's one God who is all Life, Mind, Spirit, and Love—one God with His spiritual self-expression, man, including all men and women. Each of us is an individual idea of God. Since God is all the Life and Mind that exists, man always moves and acts wisely and intelligently. Because God is Spirit and Love, man always moves and acts responsibly, tenderly, and with authority.
The "aha moments" continued as I learned how to resist acting contrary to the nature of God's man. For ten years I traveled with my brother in a rock band. What I'd learned about my spirituality in the safety of our home was completely contradicted by what I saw on the road. I was forced to choose what kind of man I was going to be. I could accept that I was the spiritual man who reveals God's goodness, or believe I was a mortal—animalistic and self-destructive.
While I was traveling with the band, drugs and alcohol were always around, for free. But because I was striving to live as God's man, I felt guarded by a spiritually satisfied sense of myself. This helped me refuse the drugs and alcohol. I was able to help others begin to refuse them as well.
Both my brother and I were Christian Scientists, so when we hired our band members, we didn't just look for good musicians but for qualities that would fit with our beliefs, as well. Because of this approach, I feel we were all protected. It wasn't unusual for women to line up backstage to be taken to a hotel for partying and sex after a band had played. Oh, I liked being admired, and was looking for a lasting relationship at times, so battling sensual feelings wasn't always easy. But, looking back now, I see that I was truly sheltered by God during those years.
You've had lots of teachable moments.
True, and another "aha" came when I got married. I became an instant dad to my wife's two young sons. One day just before we were married, Joanne and the boys came to visit me. Jarrod, the older, was four. He sat on my lap, and we played with his teddy bear. I would take teddy and pretend he was talking to Jarrod. When it was Jarrod's turn to make the bear "talk," he swung it and hit me hard across the face. He didn't mean to be violent, but got carried away with the game. However, when he saw the blow had shocked me, he quickly put both hands up in a defensive position, expecting me to hit back. I was stunned more by his fear than by being hit. At that moment, I realized what it was going to take to be a dad, a real man—forgiveness and love. I slowly reached out, took both his shoulders, pulled him close, and kissed him on the cheek. I still remember the amazed look on his face. He relaxed, and we started playing again. It would've been easy to try to "teach him a lesson." But God wanted to teach both of us what His man really was. TR
What I'd learned about my spirituality in the safety of our home was completely contradicted by what I saw on the road. I was forced to choose what kind of man I was going to be.
Another lesson in manhood also involved Jarrod. Whenever we went out to eat, Jarrod would need to go to the bathroom as soon as the food arrived. Instead of eating, I would take Jarrod to the men's room, and these constant trips began to irritate me. One evening we were at a cafeteria, and as soon as we sat down with the food, Jarrod needed to go. I grumbled all the way to the men's room. Since Jarrod was a little guy, he would stand on my shoes while going to the bathroom. That time, he looked up at me and for the first time, ever, said, "Keefer, I love you." Christ has a way of erasing selfishness by bringing our lives back to being God-centered rather than self-centered.
I'm learning that Christ is the power of God that saves us from living a lie—the lie that says you're an abuser, dishonest, unreliable, sick, afraid, or unworthy. I like to think of Christ as "the divine eraser." As Mary Baker Eddy explained, "If Christian Science takes away the popular gods,—sin, sickness, and death,—it is Christ, Truth, who destroys these evils, and so proves their nothingness" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 347). Christian Science reveals the relationship between Jesus and Christ. Jesus was the man; Christ was his way of thinking, his spiritual selfhood. Christ is always here, showing us the man God made us to be—our own spiritual selfhood. Christ impels us to choose the kind of man we will be. God's man isn't mortally flawed. He's spiritually sound. We should mentally protest against the errors that degrade true manhood.
Sometimes manhood is defined in terms of power-seeking, playing or working in highly competitive ways, and being an authority figure or a self-made man. Men are also categorized as passive, uncommunicative, or stoic.
Both sides of that coin can be cries for help. The submissive person perhaps has been made to believe he's unworthy. Christ comes to the rescue of anyone who thinks he's missing out or has nothing to bring to the table. Every idea of God is valuable and needed to reveal the majesty and greatness of Spirit. On the other hand, a power-hungry man is never going to be truly satisfied if he lives solely for himself and excludes everyone else. The self-centered life is not really living, because it leaves divine Life out of the picture. When you leave God out, you start losing everything you cherish. The power you get is never enough. Seeking personal power actually denies the power that is ours as God's dynamic, spiritual self-expression.
The legitimate self-made man expresses the authority of God as divine Love. He honestly values God's wisdom, order, and strength, and seeks to reflect these qualities. Instead of being self-made, this man is actually God-made, whether he knows it or not.
Where or to whom do you look for your models of manliness?
The model for manliness doesn't get any better than in the Bible. In it God explains who we are and how we should live. Jesus, in a special way, is a true model of manliness for all men. I find in Jesus' life a perfect balance. He was both tough and tender, expressing the authority of Christ and the humility of a caring son. He was the Lion of Judah, and also the Lamb. He cleared out the temple court with a whip, yet he cried at Lazarus's grave. He courageously scolded the Pharisees and the scribes, yet he kneeled and yielded to God's will when his trial was at its hardest—in Gethsemane. Love and strength, tenderness and firmness, meekness and might, were in perfect balance in Jesus. Real manhood is tough in casting out materialistic beliefs that would harm our family or ourselves. Yet we must be tender with our wives and children. I think a real man express both God's power and His grace.
It's a stretch to generalize, but women often find it easy to talk with other women, and some men find it difficult to talk openly, from the heart, with other men. And advice columnists often hear from women who are troubled about men who don't open up to them. Is there a cure for male silence, for the fears behind the silence? Many men don't spend much time thinking about heartfelt issues. To them, that seems unnatural. I feel that the inability to communicate stems from the belief that we're mortal. If we accept the notion that we're just physical beings, we'll shy away from offering our innermost thoughts because we won't have a clue about where they come from. We'll never bother to think anything deeply significant, and be just modern-day hunters and gatherers, providers and guardians. However, if we accept that we're spiritual, we'll discover the source of rewarding communication.
Men and women express all of God's nature; consequently, we include all the qualities of God as Life, Mind, and Love. God is communicating or revealing through each of us the wisdom and tenderness of being. Naturally, a man can express the strength and ability to perform tasks effectively, but also can have the capacity to think logically, deeply, and with real warmth and care. I value the idea that "when the heart speaks, however simple the words, its language is always acceptable to those who have hearts" (Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 262). UE
All too many male/female relationships involve some kind of violence and abuse of women and children. How do we get at root causes and begin to bring healing?
Marriage should be a safe harbor that protects both men and women as they grow spiritually. Every relationship should be a haven. Sadly, though, instead of men helping maintain this safe harbor for their wives and children, some men are mesmerized into doing just the opposite. Instead of responding spiritually and showing tenderness, they yield to a carnal mentality that craves power and needs to dominate. That's when the mental and physical abuse happens.
To stop the violence and abuse, we need to understand that carnal thoughts are fundamentally unreal and powerless to control men. The divine Mind always maintains the harmony of its creation. This Mind's ideas are always guarded and safe, caring and gentle. In fact, the carnal mind is no real mind, because God is the actual Mind that we reflect, and God has the only power. In the end, the carnal mentality can abuse and destroy only itself.
Some men cite Bible texts as a license for harshly treating women, like First Corinthians 11:3, which speaks of man as "the head of the woman." A literal reading of those words completely ignores the model Jesus gave. He was compassionate and respectful toward women, and he called the devil, or the carnal mind, "a liar, and the father of it" (John 8:44). Men can stop believing the lie that manhood involves being domineering. God's spiritual man can only do what his heavenly Father does, and our Father always honors and respects His children. Science and Health explains that "in Science man is the offspring of Spirit. The beautiful, good, and pure constitute his ancestry. His origin is not, like that of mortals, in brute instinct, nor does he pass through material conditions prior to reaching intelligence. Spirit is his primitive and ultimate source of being; God is his Father, and Life is the law of his being" (p. 63).
Wouldn't it help for a husband to see his wife more as God sees her—as beautiful, spiritual, satisfied, and complete? With that view guiding, he can stay faithful in expressing God's tenderness, wisdom, honor, and courage.
Men as well as women face the specter of illnesses and syndromes associated with gender. How does spiritual treatment help in such cases?
Every illness is an imposition on thought, and spiritual treatment removes the imposition or false belief through spiritually knowing what is true. Both the physical trouble and the thought that appears to produce it are unreal and no part of God or His creation. We can refuse to accept that we're in any way matter-based or vulnerable to being harassed with disabilities, malfunctions, and pain. Again it sounds radical, but we never actually live in a physical body. Remember what I learned as a teenager—there's just one man, and this man is spiritual. Well, as the compound ideas of God, we express all the infinite and eternal qualities of God, His flexibility, power, beauty, and free movement.
The conventional human view of life says the body consists of a number of interacting systems, and that life depends on those systems. As the Soul of all life, God maintains the purity and operation of its infinite systems. Soul mandates and maintains every condition required for perfect symmetry, formation, development, and function. Within God's systems, nothing can wither, decay, decline, or die, and spiritual manhood is governed by the laws of eternal harmony.
For me, real manhood means learning about those laws, living by them, and choosing the best models to follow. What a privilege we have, though, in choosing the kind of man we'll be.