Canaan’s Rest represents a quiet place “set apart” for the purpose of hearing God's voice, growing in intimacy with the Lord, and being renewed in soul and spirit.

Month: July 2017

Broken Ladders

A new song by Selah entitled  “Broken Ladders” speaks to one of the spiritual “land mines” in male spirituality.  Here is the refrain: “All you ever wanted was my heart/My heart, my simple heart/To You that’s all the really matters/Why do I feel I have to reach/Believe I have to rise/When you never said I had to climb/These broken ladders.”  Climbing broken ladders is an apt metaphor for men working on their personal “spiritual improvement projects”  measuring their spiritual progress through personal  “sin management.”   It is an impossible task.  Why do men keep climbing broken ladders?

We keep climbing and reaching because of broken hearts that we can’t fix.  Our work on sin management produces the frustration of broken ladders. God, first and foremost,  wants our hearts not our effort. It takes an “inside job” to fix what is broken. I heard of a very successful high school football coach, who had lead a double life, say he life was broken and he was not able to fix it.  Amen.

Men we are broken.  But the good news is that God is close to the brokenhearted. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18).  He is able to heal what is broken. “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).  Isaiah prophesied of Jesus helping the brokenhearted. “He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released…” (Isaiah 61:1).  God is pleased with a broken spirit. “The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit.  God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart” (Ps 51:19).

It  is  humbling to  pray along with David as he acknowledges how broken he was after his affair with Bathsheba.  He is aware of his total dependence upon God’s mercy.  “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.  Because of your great compassion blot out the stain of my sins. (Ps 51:1).  It is difficult for men to surrender totally to the mercy of God.  We think we have to fix something.  No, we come before God in brokenness and humility.

David had some  broken ladders.  “For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.  Against you, and you alone have I sinned.  I have done what is evil in your sight….For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” (Ps. 51:4a-5).  He could not fix himself.  No climbing broken ladders for David.  He knew that  only God can change his  heart. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me” ( Ps. 51:10-11).

David knew  healing started on the inside.  No amount of effort could fix his broken heart.  “Purify me from my sins and I will be clean, wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…….Don’t keep looking at my sins.  Remove the stain of my guilt” (Ps 51:7 & 9).  Remember the transformation of a man, begins as an “inside job.”  David had confidence in God’s inner work.  “Create in my a clean heart, O God.  Renew a loyal spirit within me.  Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:10-11).  God’s inside work brought joy, giving David a  willing heart.   “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you” (Ps 51:12).

Instead of climbing broken ladders produced by a broken heart David found joy and willing heart.  There is a big difference between climbing broken ladders and finding the  joy of inner transformation.

An Ancient Hairy Man

I owe the poet Robert Bly a debt for the image of a wild man back in the early 90’s.  After reading “Iron John” I wanted to be a soulful man, even though I was frightened and insecure about the condition of my soul.   In the 80’s Bly observed, “Every modern male has, lying at the bottom of his psyche, a large primitive being covered with hair down to his feet.  Making contact with this Wildman is the step the 80’s male or the 90’s male has yet to take….  Contemporary  man looks down into his psyche, he may, if conditions are right, find under the water of his soul, lying in an area no one has visited for a long time, an ancient hairy man.” I was intrigued with what lay silent deep within my inner life..

I know I was a stranger in my own house.  In the words of Henry Nouwen, “We know little or nothing of our heart.  We keep our distance from it, as though we were afraid of it.  What is most intimate is also what frightens us most.  Where we are most ourselves, we are often strangers to ourselves.  We fail to know our hidden center….If we ask ourselves why we think, feel and act in a certain way, we often have no answer, thus proving to be strangers in our own house.” For the last 20 years I have attempted it live from my center. continual coming home to my authentic self in Christ.

The image of a ancient hairy man, awakened in me a hunger for which I had little guidance in satisfying at the time.   Richard Rohr’s “The Wildman journey” based on the journey of John the beloved and John the Baptist, depicting movement from the common masculine to the common feminine and back again to the deep masculine was very helpful. Leanne Payne’s call for the affirmed masculine to embrace the hidden feminine, helped me see the need for have  a balance between  being tough and tender.  John Eldridge gave me permission to embrace wild at heart, when he talked of “a fierce warrior who goes beyond his comfort zone, away from what he can control, and who fights for what right.”

For me the concept of being fully alive, fully awake and fully human through inner transformation speaks to encounter with the ancient hairy man.  John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judea, dressed in camel’s hair, eating locust and wild honey, calling for repentance, echoes a call to be wild.  Matthew tells us, “John, called ‘the Baptizer,’ was preaching in the desert country of Judea.  His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: ‘Change your life, God’s kingdom is here.'” (Matt 3:1-2 – Message).  Later in Matthew Jesus compares John to Elijah. “……John is the ‘Elijah’ you’ve all been expecting to arrive and introduce the Messiah.” (Matt 11:14 – Message).

I wonder if the words spoken to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, regarding John,  might not be as true for us today, since it is the work of the same Holy Spirit.  “He will herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics – he’ll get the people ready for God” (Luke 1:17).  I wonder, because of the confusion and profound distortion regarding the biblical pattern of male and female relationships, if God might not be raising up “Elijah” type men, who are preparing people ready for God, by being a little wild.   These will be men who are 1) soulful 2) subversive, 3) passionate, 4) countercultural  and 5) prophetic.

Cars 3

Men, I recently went to see Cars 3 with my bride and our oldest grandson.  I loved it!  I encourage every man reading this blog to take his kids to see this great animated movie.  Better yet go with your father, who, of course, is the grandfather of your kids.  The truth be told, I fell in love with Miss Fritter.  I would pay to see more of her dominating the demolition derby.  As a grandfather, who wants to pass it on to his grandkids, this movie has a surprisingly positive  plot.

In the movie, the central character, Lightening McQueen, is getting old.  His legacy is being threatened by the next generation of cars. Cruz Ramirez, the young female trainer assigned to McQueen is the new face of future racing.  But because of enhanced technology and data-driven training, McQueen doesn’t have a chance.  McQueen has to decide if he wants to  preserve his superstardom or keep racing  when it seems impossible to win.  Instead Lightening McQueen looks to the past, especially to his mentor, Doc Hudson to value how he was mentored.  Then he looks to the future racing career of Cruz Ramirez.

S.D. Kelly in a review for Christianity Today notes, “McQueen ends up transferring his outsized ambition and intense desire to continue to win races…to Cruz…..he does so without sublimating her own ambition and her own dreams of her career.  It is a lovely depiction of each generation bringing the best of themselves to their interaction….a depiction of legacy-building not often seen: the tricky part of transference.”  Transference can only happen when there is mutual respect.  Kelly gives this take on Cars 3, “McQueen understands this intuitively.  The lessons of history, of Doc Hudson and his generation, of McQueen and the citizens of Radiator Springs, can be passed on to Cruz and her generation of racecars…..only if this willingness to cede the dais is passed on as well.”

The idea of transference or the” passing on” to the  next generation is at the heart this blog.  When God’s people crossed over the Jordan river into the promised land, they placed a memorial of 12 stones in the river as a sign of God’s deliverance for the following generations.  God said to them, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jorden was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.  When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.  These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:7).   This blog is my humble attempt of  calling attention to the 12 stones, that is, the story of God’s deliverance for men as they go into the promised land, which is now occupied by the enemy.

Like Lightening McQueen I am getting older.  I am further along on the journey.  I have crossed over many years ago.  I have lived in the promised land.  But there is more to conquer and inherit.  The battles will be different for the next generation.  I appreciated the portrayal of Lightening,  passing on his legacy to Cruz.  It’s not about intergenerational disconnect, but rather honoring the ambition and desires of a new generation, while bring out the best of the past. .

I take to heart the words of Ps. 78:4, “We’re not keeping this to ourselves, we’re passing it along to the next generation – God’s fame and fortune, the marvelous things he has done.” Cars 3 has taught  me to honor the godly ambition and desires of younger men,  while sharing wisdom from someone who has been on the journey for a lot of years.

Crossfit and SoulCycle

Since I live in the northwoods, I have little access to a good fitness center.  However, I have been fascinated by several articles about Crossfit and SoulCycle fitness centers.  Casper ter Kuile of  Harvard Divinity School has noticed how gyms are starting to fill spiritual and social needs for many nonreligious people.  With over four million users, the leaders of Crossfit, see themselves tending an orchard not building a skyscraper. “The two most strking things about Crossfitters,” observes ter Kuile, “are their evangelical enthusiasm and the way they hold one another to account.”  SoulCycle promotes a shared, transformative experience. Ter Kuile notes, “many participants joke about the cult-like loyalty……which illustrates both the depth of participant commitment and the hope… fulfill brand promises like ‘find our soul.'”

What’s going on here?  “As institutional affiliation decreases, people have the same age-old desires for connection, relationships, connection to something bigger than themselves,” maintains ter Kuile.  “….spaces traditionally meant for exercise have become the locations of shared, transformative experience.”  I personally am encouraged by this trend.  Many of the assumptions of Crossfit and SoulCycle mirror the wildman journey.  I want to point out five.

First, the need for relationship. These “boxes” have the feel of family. Men make connections with others. It is  a place of belonging and acceptance.   A recent survey of more than 2,ooo Americans conducted by the Harris Poll showed that almost three quarters (72%) of Americans experienced loneliness.  “Loneliness is ‘an invisible epidemic’ masked by people’s online personas, which rarely reflects real emotions” observed the report.  A Wildman needs a “band of brothers” knowing that “iron sharps iron.”  He can’t stand alone.

Second, the need for a safe space.  These gyms provide not only physical fitness but mental and spiritual transformation as well.  Fitness is a journey into wholeness, recognizing where one is on the path.  The gym provides a safe space to talk about the journey of life.  A Wildman  needs a safe space to talk about the challenges of the spiritual journey.  Men learn the “male mode of feeling”  with other men  in a safe place.

Third. the need of soul care.  It is amazing to me that  SoulCycle would use the phrase, “find your soul.”  There is an organization called “Faith RX’d” which combines CrossFit with Christianity.  They believe “God an be glorified when we honor him with best efforts in the gym, and even more when we discuss ways to grow in a relationship with him, share His gospel and serve the needs of others.” While secular language is used, the language mirrors many of the function of religious communities.  Above all, a Wildman is a soulful man, knowing he needs soul care.

Fourth, the desire  for transformation.  It is amazing to me how open these gyms are  about change and even transformation.  It is no longer just about physical fitness, but of life style change.  A Wildman is a work in progress.  He is being transformed from the inside out, by the spirit of God.  Transformation is God’s work.  There is the expectation that God can bring a change.

Fifth, the zeal  to promote.  One gym owner talked about his passion for his work.  “I want people to know that CrossFit truly is for everyone…. I want to put it all on the line and open an affiliate because I believe in every part of CrossFit and I want to share that with people.”  We live in a day when the Wildman journey is becoming one of the more viable means of resisting the darkness and spiritual chaos coming upon our nation. Wildmen are learning to stand in their true masculine strength.

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