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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Males - The Great Spiritual Exiles

I know this won't be popular, but it has to be said. First, though, some stipulations. It's true that most organized religions are patriarchal messes that have a long way to go to include people of all genders, people of all abilities, and people of color in leadership. That fact simply cannot be debated. However, I am not writing about leadership today, I am writing about belonging. When we look to the average member, participant, congregant, person in the pew, person facing east with their head on the floor and butt in the air, whatever they are called in your tradition, two things become clear. The first is that, by and large, men are missing. The second is that there is very little reason for them to show up because we have so concentrated on everybody but men that there is virtually no programming for men.

Oh, sure, Evangelicalism has men's groups where everybody sits around and talks about what positions they have sex in and how many times they masturbated this week. I'm sorry, but that's not a spiritual group, it's a sick exercise in boundaryless self-disclosure. There are also the occasional retreats for troubled young men, and they are a wonderful thing - but not the sort of thing that Joe Average would attend. Richard Rohr has done some great stuff in men's spirituality, but he's just one person and can only do so much. All in all, the men's movement of the 1980s had all the staying power of a popcorn fart, and since then there hasn't been much.

If you think I am off base here, just scan your social media feeds and Google Ad Words. There are retreats for women, for working women, for women with children, for women without children, for women of color, for Breast Cancer survivors, for women with endometriosis, for women who leak urine when they cough, for female Latvian Dwarfs, and on and on - except nothing for Joe Average. You will say to me that programs aren't offered because everyday, regular spiritual events are dominated by women. I will reply that simply doesn't logically follow since current offerings aren't really directed toward men.

In Christian terms, we aren't excited about cleaning the altarware, or joining the knitting circle, or making cookies for coffee hour. We don't want to shop for flowers for Sunday. Most of us are so unprepared to teach Sunday School it's laughable. About all we can do is be an usher, because we know how to show people to a seat. We can show up when it's time to clean the property in the fall, and we don't mind doing work around the physcial plant now and again, but that's about it. Gee, what aren't we just bum rushing the doors on Sunday morning? Why aren't we just knocking down the doors to sing songs that we can neither relate to nor sing? Let's all hold hands and say the Lord's Prayer, that would really make us happy!

Buddhist centers aren't much better. You want us to take off our shoes, and the truth is we aren't comfortable with that because if we are blue collar workers our feet are smelly and beat up. If we are wearing dress clothes we are probably wearing socks that we aren't comfortable in and that will cause our toes to freeze on contact with your arctic, hardwood flooring. Speaking of dress up, many of us don't like to dress up in our free time so that rules out Shambhala centers. Worse, you expect us to get down on that cushion that we will never get back up from, humiliating ourselves in the process? If we can't sit on a cushion, we can always sit in the back away from everybody else - just like we had to do in grade school when we were naughty. Then we might have a fancy tea ceremony or eat vegetarian food? Oh yes, sign us right up for that!

What's needed are men's retreats that don't presuppose men must then show up to the main event on Sunday - or whenever it's held in our tradition. Let us approach at our own pace. Allow us to come as we are and have discussions that are meaningful to our lives. Don't ask about what we do with our penises. Ask what we want to do with our lives, what scares us about the changes we are going through in our bodies and careers, why in the hell our hair seems to be disappearing from the top of our heads and reappearing in our noses and ears. Let somebody else take care of the physical plant and show people to their seats, and we will gladly give up the administrative tasks. Let the spiritual center or church become a place where we are actually nurtured. and we will show up.

I don't think it will happen. The people being served probably won't want to give up any of their time or attention to let other programming happen. There's a privilege is spiritual circles that comes with being oppressed. It's almost as if spirituality is God's great affirmative action center. It's not going away, and people aren't likely to surrender it. In fact, a lot of those groups spend a pretty significant amount of time identifying males as the problem - and then wondering why we don't show up. Like I said, it doesn't take a rocket scientist.


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