Saturday, November 16, 2019

#25 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (KE#g)

Advocating for an internal, college/church process of conflict resolution is not done as a way of preserving or enhancing a separation between church and state. Rather, it is proferred on the premise that the church, theoretically, idealistically, hopefully and imaginatively could make substantial contributions to the cutting edge of how people who cross boundaries need to be treated inside its borders and, over time, perhaps even in the secular culture. This is not merely a matter of justice in the legal or ethical sense; it is a matter of human survival and clearly a matter of the incarnation of a faith worthy of the name.

And at the core of the process of resolving conflict, both in the secular and the ‘sacred’ cultures, has for centuries depended on what can legitimately by argued is a masculine definition of what it means to be a man. In a recent piece in The Atlantic, entitled General Chaos, What Top Military Leaders Think About Trump, Mark Bowden quotes one general:

He (trump) doesn’t understand the warrior ethos…the warrior ethos is important because it’s sort of a sacred covenant not just among members of the military profession, but between the profession and the society in whose name we fight and serve. The warrior ethos transcends the laws of war; it governs your behaviour. The warrior ethos makes units effective because of the values of trust and self-sacrifice associated with it –but the warrior ethos also makes wars less inhumane and allows our profession to maintain our self-respect and to be respected by others. Man, if the warrior ethos gets misconstrued into ‘Kill them all…’ he said trailing off. Teaching soldiers about ethical conduct in war is not just about morality; If you treat civilians disrespectfully, you’re working for the enemy! Trump doesn’t understand that….
Having never served or been near a battlefield, several of the generals said, Trump exhibits a simplistic, badly outdated notion of soldiers as supremely ‘tough’—hard men asked to perform hard and sometimes ugly jobs. He also buys into a severely outdated concept of leadership. The general, all of whom have led troops in combat, know better than most that war is hard and ugly, but their understanding of ‘toughness’ goes well beyond the gruff stoicism of a John Wayne movie. Good judgement counts more than toughness.
Bolduc (a retired brigadier general who is currently running as a Republican  for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire) said he came up in a military where it was accepted practice for senior officers to blame their subordinates, lose their temper, pound on desks, and threaten to throw things, and the response to that behavior was ‘He’s a hard ass. Right? He’s tough. That’s not leadership. You don’t get optimal performance being that way. You get optimal performance by being completely opposite of that. Mark Bowden, The Atlantic, November 2019, p. 49)

The church, as a quasi-military organization, built on a hierarchical structure, has for centuries followed the military “ethos” and the stereotype of a strong masculine figure as a hard-ass, decisive, detached, invulnerable, dispassionate, disdainful of his own emotions and clearly disdainful of any physical ailment, and the need, except and unless in a near-fatal emergency, to seek medical help. This stereotype, far beyond the John Wayne papier-mache rendition of its depth and complexity, has greased the path of millions of ‘generals’ no matter the title of their office, including pope, bishop, archbishop, principal, judge, magistrate, chief. Uniforms, albs, chasaubles, mitres, medals, stripes, and various physical and mental rituals have embodied the “leadership model” that been enmeshed, both consciously unconsciously, overtly and subversively, on a ‘given’ and ‘accepted’ notion of a highly respected, highly honoured, highly admired and even elevated figure of the “very masculine” male.

Love stories, war stories, political empires, treaties, speeches and new laws have been framed between and among the strong man and the sexual woman. In fact, it can be argued that the pathway of many romances began with a glint in the eye of a young woman envisioning or actually witnessing a man in a uniform. (Or, more deeply in the imagination of a young man who sensed that pursuing that uniform would enable the attraction of his life partner.) Such stuff of the human story, of course, has inevitably been fueled by the inevitable and inexorable hypocrisy that such a “perfect image” is not only unsustainable; such a perfect image is more likely to camouflage deeply dark, ironic and often tragic patterns of sin, evil, betrayal, injustice, manipulation and what the world knows as criminal or sick.

The “image” of leadership, of decisive and clear annunciation of various messages, corporate strategies, political ideologies, military plans, space voyages, surgical operations, and the necessary tactics and processes for their enactment, all follow a similar pattern, in the conventional secular, academic, ecclesial, military and corporate world. Revolutions, too, have needed and depended upon a similar model of leadership. Gangs, too, have named their “top dog” who then commands both the respect and fear of his followers. Leaders, like coaches, provide and embody the culture of their “platoon” or team, to the degree that history recounts their “watch” (another military term that is now embeded in our vernacular) under the umbrella of their personality, character and both its exemplary and its unsavoury traits and reputations.

What does all of this “leadership model” have to do with theology? Whether by design or more simply by default, church hierarchies have adopted, grafted, injected, and applied the make-up of conventional, secular and military-masculine imaging, as well as the concomitant behaviour, attitudes, processes and judgements that define wrong, and the people committing those ‘wrongs’ in a manner that has come to define our judicial system, or medical system, and our mental health and spirituality parameters and perceptions. Whatever behaviour that contravenes some rule, law, regulation, expectation, convention and public gossip (dependent and even enmeshed in those first five in this list) requires and even demands a perspective of deterrence, of rejection and in extremis, of elimination not only of the act but also of the person convicted of the act. Even acts of suicide, for example, are so heinous to an organizational hierarchy, perhaps because of the implicit shame, guilt and potential criticism of their leadership, that the steps taken to “clean up” the mess, (from the perspective of the hierarchy) are so devoid of sensibility, compassion, and introspection as to leave both the hierarchy and the suffering family and friends wandering in the wilderness of their unresolved grief for months or even years, too often alone and without opportunity to share intimate knowledge of circumstances behind the ‘act’.

This is not an argument that says all of societies ills, evils, or wrong-doings result directly or indirectly from a perverted, unsustainable, unsupportable and even a fundamental lie about the nature of masculinity. It does say, however, that, given that a large percentage of “wrongs” are committed by men, and that the system has been founded on a definition of what constitutes healthy masculinity, including a quick and glib investigation of the history, the biography and the context of any act of wrong-doing, (in order to save time and money, and to protect those investigating from public scorn and criticism including the presiding judges and magistrates), masculinity as defined by a complicit and somewhat unconscious, and insouciant culture, inside and outside the church, lies at the root of many of society’s anxieties.

Men, too, for our part, suffer both from an abandonment on the part of our peers, as well as a perception of needed strength, stoicism, invulnerability and stern judgement as “weak,” “effeminate,” “girlie,” or worse, “gay,”….and these epithets pre-date the latest political activism of the LGBTQ community. The conflict inside masculinity, exposed and expressed as one between tough hard-asses, red-necks, conservatives on the one hand and effete, liberal, intellectual, artsy and soft ‘never-men’ on the other infuses water cooler conversation, cultural memes, social media, political discourse (especially now with trump!) and threatens to derail the human enterprise if collaboration, co-operation, reconciliation, restorative justice, and a new definition of masculinity is not envisioned, incarnated, practiced, and embedded into world culture. This is not a matter of responsibility for a specific religious group, nor a specific language or ethnic culture, nor a specific economic model or ideology. It is also not a matter outside the parameters of global warming, artificial intelligence, cyber crime, space exploration, biological epidemics, or all of the various methods of corporate, political, military, diplomatic, or judicial conflict.

A recent explosion of public contempt has erupted following the uttering of “you people” (in reference to immigrants to Canada) who love “our milk and honey” and yet won’t spend a couple of buck to but a poppy to honour our military, who fought for our way of life. As a long-time talking head on Hockey Night in Canada, a revered national sport-commentary, Don Cherry has given voice to some of the most demeaning, insulting and personally offensive comments against a variety of hockey players from countries other than Canada. Canadians have, for the most part, dismissed them because “that’s just Don being Don.” Immigrants, many of whose fathers and grandfathers are themselves military veterans, however, do not take kindly to the slur of being referred to as “you people”.

In part, Cherry embodies an Anglo-Saxon view of Canada, based on a history that has passed us by, and has done so at a pace some elderly find beyond the speed of sound. An octogenarian neighbour wondered how, for example, a petition of over 200,000 could be developed in support of Cherry in hours since he did not know where to ‘sign’ in his town. The internet has developed, and transformed communication, while he continues to read the daily newspaper. I have no idea whether Dean Slater at Trinity should have been removed following the hearing over comments he made allegedly angering the sensibilities and the character of a female colleague. What I do not doubt, however, is that people of faith, good faith, and allegedly the same faith perceptions, values, ethics and responsibilities, having read and reflected on the same history, tradition, church ‘father’s and contemporary praxis and scholarship, did not come to a resolution that would have/could have? generated a more equitable, and thereby more just verdict, inside a process designed and delivered by people of the Christian faith.

Of course, the history of religion and specifically, of the Christian faith is drowning in the blood of martyrs, of fallen ‘soldiers’ who have been killed both literally and metaphorically in order to keep the faith “pure” and “holy” and “clean” and sustainable. Some of this blood has been shed in support of venal popes and kings, in support of racism, sexism, ageism and slavery, in the name of God, or at least some version of God deemed ‘right’ and ‘true’…And, yet, 2000 years plus have passed and the church continues to be embedded in both a theology of retribution, punishment, vengeance, excommunication, and a definition of humans (incarnated differently for men and women) as primarily sinful, in need of redemption and desperate for love.

It is a sad yet clear observation that the mercy, the forgiveness and the healing that each human being needs, requires and is promised by a redeeming faith, seems so far from the internal deliberations, academic theses, seminary classes, and organizational visioning and execution inside the church itself. Of course, matters of faith are represented as “things beyond” the now and the literal, and thereby contingent upon the imagination, creativity and courage and strength of those practitioners, thought leaders, ‘high priests’ and leading clergy and laity. Nevertheless, if a belief in God has any impact on the lives of disciples, surely it could and would generate serious consideration, on the individual’s part, of how to contribute to the “kingdom’s” impact in the here and now, as a complement to the hereafter.

Within families, neighbourhoods, schools, colleges, universities, corporations, the exercise of power, whether by men or women in authority, has to be tempered by the vulnerability, the conscious acknowledgement of the impact of one’s full consciousness, including the emotions, the thoughts, the empathy, the full investigation of the cultural, psychological, historic, and even the anthropological petrie dish from which one’s thoughts, words, actions and beliefs emerge. The instant gratification of “justice” at the expense of the most full and complete assembling and digestion of the biographical information (not ever to be relegated to the professional psychologists, or to the psychiatrists, or to the social workers, all of whom have a limited (often by time and cost) agenda or perspective and too often make distorted and invalid conclusions and recommendations. Any recommendation for “justice” that does not vigorously integrate the relevant biographical information, (often unavailable from a frightened and insecure, and too often poor and impoverished witness) is and can be deligitimized, for the failure of the systems that generated it.

And the systems that we currently deploy need deep and profound scrutiny, not merely from a technological perspective, but from a theological, ethical, moral and compassionate, empathic perspective. Is it just possible, as it is imaginable, that the Christian church might find some spine, examine its definitions of human beings, including those of gender and biography, with a view to seeking restorative, sustainable and credible justice. It is not only the pursuit of lower recidivism rates that warrant such an approach. The way we see each other, from the get-go, is integral to a new way of being on the planet. This “shared” perception of who we are, as individuals and as social beings, not wanting ever to displease, nor ever to dishonour, if given the corroborating and supporting grounding, could be a life-saver in both the eschatological and the literal twenty-first century senses of such life-saving.  

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