“And of the Children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel out to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.” (1 Chron 12:32)
Of Zebulum, such as went forth to battle, expert in war, with all instruments of war, fifty thousand, which could keep rank….” (1 Chron 12:32)
My fellow brothers in Christ – and I believe can say that. It is indeed a great privilege for me to be invited to share a few thoughts with you as you commence deliberations on issues related to manhood, masculinity and maleness. These are issues, which are near and dear to my own heart, and which I believe is deserving of greater discussion and strategic action by all concerned, about ‘male malaise’ in our society and even in our Churches.
I am even happier to be here with you my Methodist brothers who are drawn from Jamaica and other Caribbean territories, because I believe that the problems and challenges facing this country are not peculiar to Jamaica – but are to be found in the rest of the region. Indeed, one could even say that male malaise is a noticeable feature of Western societies.
Your meeting is particularly timely as I believe your discussions will draw upon the wisdom to be found in the social sciences, but more importantly, the wisdom honed by a Christian worldview.
When it comes to correcting what is wrong about male behaviour, I believe that Christian men should lead the way. In the parlance of scriptures, Christian men must become ‘the salt and light’ to a world of men groping for direction.
From where I sit, it seems to me that in the wider society, there is much confusion about who men are, and what their roles should be. I believe that you as Methodist men as a band of brothers, can offer leadership to clear up the confusion.
I have noted some of the agenda items of your conference and I think you are right on target with the kinds of issues slated for discussion.
Story: On October 25, 1999, F15 fighter jets sped to the location of an airborne craft that had deviated considerably from its course and was out of radio contact. Yes. I said October 1999. That aircraft eventually crashed into a field in South Dakota. Fortunately, the crash did not cause any deaths or injuries on the ground. Sadly however, all those aboard perished.
This was not an aborted terrorist attack but the tragic culmination of a routine flight gone terrible wrong. Apparently this Learjet depressurized causing a sudden loss of oxygen and the equally sudden loss of consciousness by the two crew members and the three passengers that were aboard. The result: no one on board was able to help the others or fix the situation.
People in the air transportation field are well aware of the sudden and disastrous consequences of oxygen depravation. Oxygen starvation or Hypoxia will invariably lead to impaired judgment, to loss of consciousness and to death. That is why airline passengers are always advised that if they are travelling with someone in need of their assistance and oxygen masks appear, they should always put on their masks before assisting others. I am sure you know the drill.
In the case of this Learjet, the aircraft traversed five US States on auto pilot before running out of fuel and crashing in a field near the town of Aberdeen in South Dakota. Many of us remember this tragic incident because this was the flight of golfing great Payne Stewart who perished along with four other persons in that crash.
I am delighted that in recent years issues of effective Christian ministry to men has been the subject of conferences such as yours to regain consciousness of this critical issue. However, in my opinion there is one glaring under-explored area which I would like to raise with you – and that is the matter of rites-of-passage for boys. In other words, the society needs to be clear in its mind, what are some of the sign posts a boy must pass as he transitions into manhood.
The Jews have Bar mitzvah for the boys (and Bat Mitzvah for the girls). African, Asian and Near East societies have clear rites-of-passage that boys undertake on the road to manhood. Somehow, the Jamaican and Western societies have not embraced the idea of positive rites-of-passage.
What is in place, however, are negative rites-of- passage that tell boys that to be a man, they must do something harmful to their neighbour, break into a store, maim and/or kill people with guns, impregnate a girl, rape, or be in involved in some adverse behaviour in order to be regarded as a man. We need to find a way, to make boys want to pursue honourable things as part of the process of becoming man.
In other words, it seems to me, that one is born male, but one becomes a man. The ‘becoming’ is the challenge. That is where the Church must play a key role to help boys to become men.
I believe I can even find Biblical support for what I am saying. In 1 Corinthians 13:11. It says there “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Our challenge, as people of faith, is to help the transitioning from boyhood to manhood, and that involves helping boys to put away childish things. Indeed, I feel that often when a man does not behave like a man, he is often behaving like a child. If you don’t believe me, those of you who are married, just ask your wives.
I am of the view that the ‘male malaise’ problem is not so much a reflection that we are losing our men, but moreso that we are losing our boys. The men we are producing are largely the outworking of lost boys. It is difficult for a boy to be what he does not see. It is difficult for him to become what he never got.
Our societies have not in an intensive and deliberate way marketed ‘brightness’ and ‘having integrity’ to our boys. So they don’t buy it because we have not properly marketed it. Instead our societies have marketed ‘bling-bling’, ‘hip-hop’ and ‘Romping Shop’. So why are we surprised that they have become what the society has marketed for them?
There is a book that concerns the discipling of men that I have heard about which has as its subtitle, “I want to be a man, but somebody stole the script” (Men and the Crossroads by Jack Balswick first edition had the sub title). Your task as Christian men, is to help our boys learn the script. You need to play a role in helping our boys develop with a clear mental script, a clear mental picture of what a man should look like.
The script must resonate deeply in every boy’s subconscious and that will happen if there is multiple reinforcement coming from the family, the politicians, the civic leaders, the religious leaders, the academy, and the news & entertainment media.
The creation of such scripts should necessarily involve a wide range of stakeholders intimately concerned with the development of young men and should be informed from insights gleaned from history, psychology, the social sciences, anthropological insights, and the biblical revelation.
We need to parade before our boys, men who are high achievers in their family lives, academic lives, professional lives, spiritual lives. (cite some examples, like Dr. Herbert Thompson, leading biochemist who with rural gumption rose to the top of his field. Barack Obama…. ), men of faith, men with a purpose.
Boys were not wired by our Creator to get to manhood on their own. I believe the Creator intended that older mature men would walk alongside them in a mentoring relationship to ensure that boys effectively transition into manhood.
In other words, it is difficult for boys to become what they never got. So if a boy grows up in a home where daddy left, then it becomes difficult for him to become a father that stays.
The violent crimes that are committed in Jamaica, is largely a male problem. I believe there are enough empirical studies and anecdotal evidence that the overwhelming majority of our gunmen did not grow up with meaningful father influence, or positive male mentorship.
I believe that the urgency of solving the nation’s crime problem, is not unrelated to what you are discussing in this conference. I believe that one of the things we ought to consider is to find ways to put more responsible men in our schools which is overpopulated by well meaning and diligent women.
It is easier to build boys than it is to fix men, someone once said. With that in mind I believe the society needs to have a national conversation about employers releasing some of their responsible men to go to some of the nation’s schools to engage in mentoring activities. Perhaps that conversation could promote the idea of tax incentives for such employers.
Being released for hours to do mentoring is particularly urgent having regard to the father vacuum that exists in the lives of many boys now attending our primary and secondary schools.
Furthermore, there is something about the way boys are wired that causes them to submit more readily to male nurture and authority as compared to their mothers and female teachers. This is especially so when boys are made to relate to male authority from their tender years.
But the Church must lead the way. Maybe as you meet as Methodists, you can begin to strategise about putting more Methodist men in the classroom to mentor our boys. And of course support those men financially as well to keep them in the classroom. The nation’s schools are crying out for responsible men to make themselves available to mentor the nation’s boys. Surely, such a strategy can help to curb school violence.
Can your church sponsor or ‘top up’ the income of a male teacher to stay in the classroom?
Can you send a male teacher from your church to the classroom as a missionary to the children?
If our churches, communities and the nation in general can establish meaningful mentoring relationships with the nation’s young men, and are guided by a good script, I suspect that Jamaica and the Caribbean will be well on its way to producing responsible men, not by accident, but by design.
As you unite to address common interest, we must be united in the Spirit. Unity was required in the upper room before the outpouring that led to Pentecost. Today, if the competencies that we need to effectively complete our tasks, the wisdom that we require to make correct decisions and the power to complete the work leading to the Kingdom is to be gained, then we must be united in purpose and in spirit so that the Holy Spirit can be unleashed to accomplish God’s work through us. As you deliberate at this conference may your constant prayer be, “Lord let your Spirit fall on me.”
My brothers it is time for us to put on our oxygen masks.
I thank you all for your kind attention, and for the privilege of sharing a few thoughts with you and again I wish you a worthwhile and fruitful conference. God bless you all.