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10 minutes ago I was greeted by screaming friends and family that looked eerily similar to an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition minus the tanned guy with perfectly groomed hair and highlights.
Back to the question:
“So did you ever kill anyone?”
To be honest, I had done a lot in 11 years in the military. I had kicked in doors in Afghanistan and raided homes. My base got mortared 67 times in 9 months. I had been in numerous ambushes and firefights. At one point, I had a bounty on my head for $20,000 courtesy of the Taliban. In response, I grew a beard, wore civilian clothes and carried a rifle. You probably know the picture….the guy with the baseball cap on, a thick beard and an Afghan scarf looking like he stepped out of the Medal of Honor video game? Yup, I looked like him. Eventually my luck ran out and I got wounded pretty badly one month before returning home. Pieces of shrapnel in my back, a shattered wrist, and a concussion, but I came to expect that working in the United States military.
In Iraq I kicked in more doors, took shotgun pellets to the face (courtesy of a trigger happy Marine), watched IEDs explode in front of my vehicle, watched people shoot at my vehicle, watched people shoot at me, watched people shoot my friends, attended funerals, cried, laughed, got depressed, screamed, ranted, fought, got dirty, got dirtier, didn’t shower for 3 weeks, burned my own feces, cried some more, got PTSD, then I went home.
The question still loomed:
“Did. You. Kill anyone?”
And people would always ask at really inappropriate times.
And I still hate the question…
It’s like someone sticking a microphone in my face and saying “Quick! Tell me how you felt after your girlfriend/fiancée/wife left you?” It’s not the question that bothers me so much as the emotion that goes along with it. How, exactly, am I supposed to feel? More importantly, how is the average male supposed to act when asked?
Suck it up. Show no emotion. Don’t cry……crying is for girls. You’re a machine. An elite killer. Breathe. Don’t jerk the trigger. Just the slightest pull because you’re a…….
Somewhere in our culture it’s getting drilled into young men’s minds that going to war and taking a life makes you more of a man. It’s macho. Sexy. Guys want to be you and girls want to be with you.
Which brings me to my basic introduction of manhood in the 21st century:
1. Fast cars, abs, benching = chicks. Painting, the arts, and dance are for men with feminine qualities.
2. Sports are more important than academics because it makes you cool. No one likes nerds. Nerds have calculators. And goldfish. No girlfriends.
3. Objectify women. Turn them into sex kittens to fulfill your fantasies and when they don’t meet that standard, break up with them.
4. A quick addition to #3. Date eight women at a time so you can keep your options open. Why tie yourself down? Don’t date their friends though. Drama.
5. It’s all about you, and if it isn’t, that’s societies fault. Buy more. Consume more. Be happy and in love only with YOU.
That last one, Number 5? It’s a common term known as narcissism, and the problem with masculinity today is that we are breathing narcissistic death into our young men with every word, TV show, advertisement, lyric….you name it. And we’re in this really weird situation where we expect men to behave like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round, but instead of getting Lancelot, we celebrate manhood in a whole different way that encourages narcissism rather than destroying it and buy into the lie that it’ll make us happy.
Let me be very transparent for a moment and tell you how I bought into the lie.
I can’t tell you how many women I’ve slept with because I got freaked out by the number one day and stopped counting, but all my friends told me the more women I was with, the more awesome I was and I believed them. I got hooked on pornography for a solid 10 years and got into some pretty shady fetishes and even now that I’m married I have to keep software on my computer that sends a report to my wife of every website I visit. I was a total jerk to women and would laugh at them when they told me about their “feelings” and how I had “used them.” I cared about no one but me and only how I could get ahead in life. My life was about me. It was everything I had seen on TV, everything my friends had told me.
I was an American male’s dream. I was supposed to be happy, right? RIGHT?
So if we’re living these lives of so-called masculinity, having all the sex we want, treating women however we want, making it all about us then why does the average male feel so empty and alone?
It’s because that’s NOT what makes you a man or will ever fulfill you as a man.
Selflessness, self-sacrifice, passion and zeal to protect God’s daughters, creativity, ingenuity, integrity, brutal honesty, compassion, these are some of the marks of manhood, but it seems no one really wants to teach that. Sure, we can all name movies with some of those traits, but look at everything else were being taught through movies, TV shows, and commercials. Selflessness? Nope, narcissism. And for the life of me I’ve never heard someone walk into the Sistine Chapel and describe Michelangelo’s masterpiece as “something made by a pansy,” yet somehow some of the traits I just listed off would get labeled as such.
God has created us to live these lives of epic adventure and creativity…to have battles to fight, to be generous rather than greedy, to value honesty rather than beautiful lies, to pursue our passions rather than settle, to chase after a woman, romance her and fight for her honor…..to sacrifice so that we can be servants instead of slaves to society. The problem is were so content living the life of a cultured dog that in the same way the dog thinks it’s accomplished a major task by fetching a bone for it’s master or chasing a fire truck it can’t catch, we are completely content mastering Call of Duty and pursuing a woman when it’s convenient for us.
This is why I love the Apostle Paul and how blunt he is towards men. In his closing letter to the Corinthian Church, he stops mid-sentence and says this:
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”
That’s always an ego shot. Any time you hear, “Why don’t you act like a man?,” it’s just a little shot to a man’s self esteem (I’m sure ladies are taking note). The phrase I want to focus on though is this one, “Be watchful”.
Because every man knows where he’s weak.
We know if we play too many video games and slack at responsibilities. We know if we got porn issues. We know if we got anger issues. We know if we treat our girl like garbage. We know if we’re jealous. So Paul says be watchful of that and act like a man. Be strong! Doesn’t it make sense to work at the areas in our lives where we’re weak? If I have a Porsche but I continually pour water in the gas tank doesn’t that, in the grand scheme of things, seem a little dumb?Wouldn’t it make sense to make the effort to get gas even if the path to get the gas is really hard?
“Let all that you do be done in love.”
I remember after I got home from Afghanistan and finally saw my grandfather. My grandfather was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne during WWII. He missed the D-Day jump because he caught pneumonia and was hospitalized. He personally met General George Patton and was his scotch supplier during the war. I had always looked up to my grandfather and thus went to war with the 82nd Airborne as well.
We sat down on his porch during a beautiful Colorado afternoon and watched the cotton trees in his backyard make it look like it was snowing even though it was summer.
“Now you’re a man…….”
I nodded, not entirely sure what I was supposed to say, but then I caught his eyes. His eyes weren’t proud of me. It was something else. Maybe pained or compassionate.
My grandfather knew I was a man not because of a rifle or a battle or the fact I had been shot. His eyes told a different story.
His eyes said:
“Now you’re a man because you know what sacrifice means. You know what it’s like to care so much for the men to your left and right that you’d do anything for them, including give your life so they make it home. You know what it’s like to care about something more than yourself. You know what it’s like to serve without expecting anything in return. Every action you made was in love for another person. This is why you’re a man now”
It felt weird. Foreign. It didn’t feel right. I knew there were men out there who had given more. Arms. Legs. Life.
Today I know there’s only one person that perfectly embodies any of what my grandfather’s eyes spoke to me. His name is Jesus. The only one who’s walked in complete love and sacrificed everything for us. You want to know what it looks like to be a man? Look to the life of Jesus. I mean, you want to talk about self-sacrifice and all the valiant themes that men love so much, then the life of Jesus should set the bar for all men to follow.
And listen, don’t hear me say, “do this stuff and act this way and you’re a man,” because the truth is all of us are failing this at some level. That’s why the cross is such a beautiful thing. I don’t think there’s anybody reading this that’s like, “Follow me, boys.” I don’t think there are. If there are, I sure wouldn’t follow them. Proud and arrogant, I wouldn’t follow that guy. I’d follow the guy that’s like, “I’m trying. Here’s how I’m trying.” That’s the guy I want to get around. Flaws, screw-ups and all. To be more to the point, isn’t that the type of guys Jesus hung around? Screw-ups, sinners, and weirdos that were at least trying?
And then, here’s my hope for any ladies reading this. My hope is that God would put in your heart a deep and consistent desire for a man, not a male. They get born that way. It doesn’t make them a man. Finding a man like this is gonna be like climbing a ladder to the moon, but don’t settle for anything less. Please don’t settle for less than the way you deserve to be treated. And please, please don’t settle for less than what’s demanded of the men by God.
May we be ferocious, God-fearing men that raise up a new generation and not another weak-willed one.
Ben Sledge, college pastor for Gateway Church in Austin, TX