David Brooks, the New York Times writer (yes, the Times), describes his spiritual journey in his new book, “The Road to Character.” He wrote “to save my own soul,” realizing at midlife that he’d spent too much time cultivating what he called “the resume virtues”- impressive accomplishments – and too little on “the eulogy virtues”- character strengths. He points out how careers leave many inarticulate in cultivating the inner life, leaving the deepest parts of ourselves unexplored and unstructured because we have lost our moral vocabulary. It is easy for us to slip into “a self-satisfied moral mediocrity.” Brooks talks about sin as the tendency to “get our loves out of order.” He is really articulating aspects of the “wild man journey.” To put it bluntly – we need to be “soulful men,” living in a spiritual wasteland.
I profited much from his discussion of “the Crooked Timber” tradition, which emphasizes our brokenness, with its awareness of and the confrontation with sin. “It was a tradition,” writes Brooks, “that demanded humility in the face of our own limitations….a tradition that held that each of us had the power to confront our own weaknesses, tackle our own sins, and that in the course of this confrontation with ourselves we build character.” “No external conflict is as consequential,” observes Brooks, “as the inner campaign against our deficiencies.” In other words, we are in a fight for our souls.
I’m quoting Brooks a lot; but it is good stuff. Here is more from Brooks. “You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. Success leads to the greater failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greater success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.” Brooks sounds like a spiritual director.
Now hear what Jesus had to say (Matt. 16:24-26 The Message). “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat, I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to find yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose your self? What could you ever trade our soul for?” The key to Brooks’ advice is to get out of the driver’s seat and surrender to Jesus.
Men, join me in the fellowship of “The Crooked Timber.” Any expression of “a self-satisfied moral mediocrity” will not stand the anti-Christian headwinds that are coming. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made (Kant).” In this fellowship we will fight for the souls of our brothers. Paul said, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature…what a wretched man I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Rom 7:18 & 24). But then he could say, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:25).
Brooks touches a real nerve in many of us. We need to daily face our flawed, broken lives. Jesus tells us, “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty” (Matt 23:11-12 – Message). Men who are part of “the Crooked Timber” fellowship are like AA guys – in their brokenness they know they need God.