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Saturday, 30 January 2016

Manhood Defined

Just this evening I was doing the weekly main shopping at the local superstore when I began to notice how empty it was of the usual crowd of shoppers. For me, Friday evenings has always been a great time to shop, as it relieves the weekend of the responsibility. After the last item was placed in the wheeled basket, I made my way to the checkout, where the teller sat idly, waiting for the next customer. A very unusual sight at any supermarket store. Usually on a Friday there is always at least one person in the process of being served, quite often two, with the second still waiting his or her turn. During the weekend itself, queues of two to three, sometimes even four at each checkout waiting to be served is more of the general norm.

But not this time. Instead the tellers sat idly, and I was able to breeze through. Then it dawned: I said to the young female serving me that it must be the live football on TV which was keeping their customers at home. It was an important match for all football fans, as this game was of a series of fixtures which would climax with the F.A. Cup Final later in the year. Then I said to her that I am not a follower of football. When she replied that she wasn't a fan either, I concluded the conversation with the words:-
This does not make me any less of a man, though - as I spoke with a hint of embarrassment.

The question of masculinity. And I write this more than a week after an incident at a curry restaurant which made me feel very hot under the collar with rage after suffering public humiliation while seating myself at table. Under the Facebook link, A Punch Averted, a good friend of mine typed, You are the bigger man not biting. In a situation like this, he was absolutely right. Had I responded by giving way to my anger - rather than prove my manhood, I would have lessened it, with the risk of all of us thrown out by the restaurant staff and bringing shame and disgrace to an Ascot church of adult men.   

Is being glued to a TV watching live football more masculine than missing the programme to go out shopping? Many years ago, back in the mid-1970's, whilst working at a precision engineering company, I cracked a joke at a fellow machinist, an ardent Queens Park Rangers supporter. In a discussion about watching the match, I came up with a suggestion on going out shopping with his wife instead. The fierce look he gave me would have launched a thousand ships! I went away laughing, back to my own machine, having both caught the funny side. But this kind of thinking most likely had arisen from his adolescence, when he accompanied his father to the weekly visit to the football stadium, while his mother went out to the shops and cooked the dinner. Those post-War days when men were men and women were grateful had an effect on my schooldays, when boys evaluated each other according to their physical prowess and their ability and competitiveness at team sports rather than on academic attainments.

Perhaps very much modelled on John Wayne. This six foot four inch tall embodiment of American masculinity left a trail of broken hearts and jaws everywhere, along with millions of fractured male egos, as this rough, tough, two-fisted, ramrod-backed, but always fair, character who conquered the Old West became the celluloid idol of masculinity to whom no other man can measure up to in the real world. John Wayne remains a fictional character, the ideal model of male toughness. But no less masculine is the far less muscular husband and father who doggedly goes to work each day to the job he hates in order to support his wife and children and to keep those nagging fuel bills paid.

John Wayne.
Indeed, devotion to wife and children through self-sacrifice marks out a far more masculine character than the hulking logger who desserts his wife "for that other bit on the side." Going by experience, true masculinity is not based on how physically strong one is, but on how he relates to others, in particular, putting the interests of others before self. This may even include the swallowing of pride in full public view, for something much better. I once read a story about an evangelist who was preaching the Gospel at a public auditorium. In the audience stood one gangster who has a record of street violence, and based his masculinity on his own toughness and prowess, along with his pride in the fights he got himself into. Soon after the main preach, this young man ran up to the evangelist in full view of everyone, and hugged him tight, breaking into tears. He had just learned what a real man is.

Another misconception of masculinity was emphasised by three journalists of the same newspaper, but at different times, two of the three were female. It is the British notion that stoicism in public is the sign of true masculinity. Over the years as a Christian believer, I had the "virtues" of the British stiff upper lip thrown at me by fellow Christians as well as by newspaper journalists and columnists. They write that since the death of Princess Diana in August 1997, our country had lost its "stoic, bulldog spirit" to become publicly emotional, mawkish, sentimental, schmaltzy, and wet - that is, except the emotion of anger. Like the time when the BBC Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson punched the producer Oisin Tymon in March 2015, over a meal served at a hotel - almost exactly eleven years after punching journalist Piers Morgan in another dispute over a boxing contest. Nobody referred to him as emotional or sentimental, but instead received praise from columnist Richard Littlejohn for "being typical British."

This brings out what I find interesting about British masculinity. Littlejohn's article about Clarkson wasn't unique. The same idea was also reflected by fellow columnist Amanda Platell, who equally praised him. When he was ousted by the BBC over his hotel incident, a very large percentage of Top Gear viewers stood behind him, demanding reinstatement. They all loved his saucy humour, his bias towards racism, and his sense of superiority over foreign nationals, as was the case during his stint in India. While Clarkson could be seen as the more genteel British equivalent of his predecessor John Wayne, he too has left a trail of bruised faces and dented male egos, much to the delight of his fans.

Simon Peter could be seen as another who had similar traits to that of Wayne and Clarkson, even if he was Jewish and lived some two thousand years earlier. Muscular in build, this experienced and hardened fisherman was not only the life of the party, but would have been the first to throw a punch at anyone who dared cross him. Before his encounter with Jesus Christ, he most likely filled his talk with strong language, and according to the culture of the day, it would not be surprising if after a heated argument, end up in a fist fight with the local tax collector, seen by him as a traitor of his people while sucking up to the Romans. Little wonder that Simon and Matthew ending up as members of the same team was nothing short of a miracle, the power of God demonstrated. One interesting incident found in the Gospels was when Jesus allowed mothers to bring their children for a personal blessing (Mark 10:13-16). The narrator says that "the disciples rebuked them." I would not be surprised at all if the ringleader was Simon himself, who didn't want to see his Lord wasting his time on "soppy, sentimental drivel"- and ready to throw a punch to any unfortunate dad who had the temerity to insist on a blessing for his offspring. Instead, Jesus quelled any rising tempers with a rebuke before it got out of hand.

The whole life of Jesus really was a demonstration of manhood and the true nature of masculinity. This makes him distinct from the likes of John Wayne, Jeremy Clarkson and Simon Peter. In the world (and not just in the UK either) male anger is seen as a trait of real masculinity, and is often seen as a means of power and a display of masculine strength. And yet the only time when Jesus showed anger was at the Temple precincts in Jerusalem, making a whip and throwing over the trading counters. But his anger was never the result of suffering as a victim of personal injustice. He was angry because he saw that his Father's House of Prayer was suffering under dishonest violation of its true purpose. When the issue was resolved, his anger was totally dissipated, and he was able to plead with the same crowd that he is Eternal Life, and to come to him and receive it.

While on Earth, Jesus shows compassion to the sick, the lowly, and the rejected. As a boy he was subject to his parents, and as an adult he had a kind attitude towards children. In a culture where women were deemed inferior to men, and their word or testimony generally disregarded, and even gender segregation at the synagogue as well as at the Temple, Jesus has shown a high regard for women. Like the elderly lady who suffered twelve years of vaginal bleeding, (Luke 8:43-48) the chat he had with the woman at the well, (John 4:1-42) and his ministry to Martha and Mary (John chapters 11, 12). Here Jesus shows his true masculinity by showing love and compassion towards women while at the same time going against the grain of culture, and risking to suffer reprisals for this.

While the Lord determinedly set course for Jerusalem to be tried and crucified, and knowing with certainty of his fate, he went with the full knowledge that this was the will of his Father in heaven. Yet he also fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy that he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53:7) in protest, grumbling, or in defence, nor did he shout in retaliation. He never wept for himself or for his coming fate. This has nothing to do with the stiff upper lip. It had everything to do with his love for Israel and the whole world taking precedence over his own affairs. In addition, the Gospels does record him weeping in public on two separate occasions. The first occasion was when he foresaw the fate of Jerusalem. After rejecting him as Messiah, Saviour and King, the city would be razed to the ground by Roman general Titus less than forty years later. He wept over the city (Luke 19:41) without caring what others might think of him.

The second occasion is recorded in John 11:35, the shortest verse in the entire Bible: Jesus wept. He loved that family so much - Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, that the sight of Mary's distress brought out his tears. If this was an occasion to show off his sentimentality, surely this was it. It was nothing of the kind. Instead, he wept out of love for the family.

Jesus Christ demonstrated a level of masculinity which was way above Wayne, Clarkson or even Peter. But it does not end there. We too can have the same level of manhood Jesus had. This is achieved by being controlled by the Holy Spirit in our lives, who is available to anyone who asks for him. It is that simple. Believing that Jesus is the Resurrected Christ and having the Holy Spirit dwelling within makes the man whole, and the Holy Spirit can direct him towards true masculinity, which involves putting the interests of others on the same par as himself at least, if not above himself.

It is the goal to aim for.


  1. Dear Frank,
    Praise God that He sent His Son, not only to save us but to teach us and show us how to live. He is the perfect Ideal we should all emulate, regardless of our gender. And yet the Bible spells out the different yet complementary roles God intends for men and women united in marriage, picturing the union between Christ and His church.
    Thanks for the great post and God bless,
    Laurie Barclay

  2. There has been a systematic effort by Satan to create a false concept of what it means to be masculine or feminine that our world is totally confused. It is no wonder our kids aren't sure what they are when every effort is being made to cause confusion.