Robert Bly died recently (Nov. 21, 2021) at the age of 94. Bly was one of the early leaders of the Men’s Movement. While some of what he advocated in his retreats for men was outside a biblical framework, he persuasively called men to become aware of their hearts. I vividly remember one interview with Bill Moyers on PBS when he said, “The way to a man’s heart is through his pain.”
After that interview, I knew a major focus of my ministry would be directed to the broken hearts of men. “It never occurred,” wrote Bly, “to think that men had feelings, or could be easily hurt… You never notice that in any of the commercials that are on television or radio. Men are regarded as something useful and ridiculous. There is a tremendous amount of belittling of men that has been going on for a long time in our culture.”
I felt Bly was speaking right to my heart as I was working through father wounds and father hunger: “With no male mode of feeling, some sons give up, collapse and become numb, for they received only the temperament of their father and not his blessing and energy.”
Bly’s book, “Iron John” had a deep impact on me. I was able to locate much of my pain through his story telling. One way in particular spoke to my family of origin: My mother was the dominant figure in my youth. My dad was distant. As an intuitive “feeler” by personality, I learned from Bly my natural tendency was to absorb the emotional environment in my home.
“The child,” observed Bly, “in a messed-up family may feel a ghastly tension between the addicted parent and the clean parent, between the cold of the angry father and the heat of the loving mother, or between the cold of the furious mother and the heat of the sorrowing father.”
Bly spoke directly to my confused heart: “In such a situation it’s relatively easy to give up iron work and take up copper work. A child can easily become a professional bridge. The child can become a conductor made of that good conducting metal, copper.”
For the first time in my life, I realized that I had allowed myself to be the conductor of all the dysfunctional emotions in my home. I learned to visualize the copper wiring in my body, absorbing and storing emotions that I needed to release through confession and forgiveness. I slowly began to give up “chairmanship of the universe” knowing that I could not “fix” the emotional needs of people in my own strength. I will be forever grateful for this singular insight from Iron John.
Some of the readers of this blog are probably too young to remember the influence of Bly on the early men’s movement. In my opinion, a comment by Bly in the beginning of his book is even more telling today in light of so much focus on “toxic masculinity.” He wrote: “The grief in men has been increasing steadily since the start of the Industrial Revolution and the grief has reached a depth now that cannot be ignored.”
I am very thankful for the courage Robert Bly had to speak out on behalf of men during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. He faced much hostility and ridicule. “The best effect we’ve had is on young men who are becoming fathers who are determined not to be the remote fathers that their own fathers were.” I was one of those fathers. Thank you, Robert Bly. I owe you a debt of gratitude.
I have a prayer request for my cousin’s son, Jeff, who they just found out he has cancer of the brain, lungs, pancreas, and liver. He is single but has a girlfriend and needs a miracle!
The prophet Hosea was called to live out a parable of God’s persistent love in the midst of Israel’s betrayal. God commanded Hosea to marry a common whore and have children with her (Ch. 1-3). God “goes after us at our worst, keeps after us until he gets us, and makes lovers of men and women who know nothing of real love” (Message).
God wants us to identify with Gomer in her wretched state to understand how spiritual adultery offends God. We can see the heart of God as He calls us back to himself. God does not give up on us. In our day both spiritual and moral idolatry keep us from relationship with Him.
Who is responsible for this spiritual condition of our culture? Hosea 4: 14 gives us a clue: It is fathers who have not set the example in taking the lead in spiritual and moral fidelity. Hosea calls the fathers out for their failure: “I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot, nor your brides when they commit adultery, for the men themselves slip away with prostitutes, and they offer sacrifices with temple prostitutes [who give their bodies in honor of the idol]…the people without understanding [stumble and fall and] come to ruin” (Hosea 4:14 – Amp.).
To win the favor of the fertility god Baal and the goddess Asherah, the Canaanites engaged in “sacred” prostitution, which involved ritual sexual acts with “sacred” prostitutes. “These rituals took place at special shrines located on hills under the shade of trees and were designed to promote fertility in the land…The Israelites encouraged their daughters to visit the shrines, hoping that their participation in ritual sex with the priests of Baal and Asherah would encourage their gods to give them numerous children. But their fathers were just as guilty, for they too visited the shrines and has sexual relations with the priestesses there…to enhance their own virility” (Chisholm – Handbook on the Prophets).
Israel became so infatuated with idols and sexuality promiscuity that they surrendered to “a spirit of prostitution” in which “the men consort with harlots and… sacrifice with temple prostitutes” v. 14 NET). “Verse 14 is in fact a landmark in moral history by its refusal to treat a man’s sexual sins more leniently than a woman’s” (Bible Speaks Today). Here Hosea makes clear that the daughters are innocent when compared to the men, who were not setting an example to their daughters, but were going to prostitutes, both religious and secular.
Verses 12-14 reveal people who had forsaken the Lord and turned to promiscuity. They show how self-indulging and mindless religion is in fact guilty of producing spiritual decadence, which in turn produces a moral breakdown in the culture. God declares they are, “a stupid people, ruined by whores” (v. 14 – Message).
Men, God’s directive in the sixth commandment is: “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). Luther’s Small Catechism tells us, “We should fear and love God so that we lead a chaste and pure life in word and deed, and that husband and wife love and honor each other.” Paul exhorts us, “Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity” (I Thess. 4:3 – Message).
It seems to me that in a sensual and sexually-confused time, Christian men need to step forth and practice sexual purity. We can apply this by resolving to: 1) Be a one-woman man, 2) Live and model a virtuous life of purity, and 3) Acknowledge how much we and other fathers have failed in our culture. God help us as men and fathers to do that.