Wednesday, November 27, 2019

#27 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (self-emasculation)

There is a blank and silent emptiness in our public debate about our male-female relationships.

And the two poles of that debate, not articulated, are misandry and spineless men.
We are so deeply embedded in symptoms, practicalities, how-to’s, menus, and user manuals that we either refrain from, or worse, refuse to acknowledge two incompatible and dangerously juxtaposed polarities. Men who have lost, abandoned, or denied our spines, at a time when women, many of them espousing a latent, deviant, and silent misandry, are taken together, like a wave pool, generating waves of tension, conflict, and the total devastation of individual lives, of both men and women.

All of the stereotypes about the differences between men and women, so many of them trite and platitudinous, aside, we are left with a picture of irreconcilable forces: women who have contempt for men, whether of individuals or generalized to the gender, and men whose addiction to “avoiding trouble” and complying with the political, ideological, and even theological agendas of women fail themselves, their families and their female partners and colleagues.

The women who, decades ago, determined to take over an institution like the church, on behalf of their besieged, denigrated, and defamed sisters, can be seen, in retrospect, to have deployed  what could be called a military strategy, based on the premise that the institution had for centuries, led by men, deliberately conspired to exclude women from the halls of power and decision-making. Ironically, they found that their campaign met a phalanx of one of the best (read worst) incarnations of T.S. Eliot’s Hollow Men, the ecclesial hierarchy.

Historically dedicated to the execution of power in what can only be described as a secretive, deceptive, stealth-like, manner circumscribed and camouflaged in a fog of incense, religiosity, the veneer of niceness, managed in large part by an imposed cultural model of “political correctness”, bishops, archbishops and clergy, all male, incarnated an image of studied intellectual sophistication, surreptitious and devious alliances with men of political power and wealth, while commanding positions of community adulation. This melodrama, played out in villages, rural parishes, towns and cities, complete with the velvet (if not sacred) covering of the political establishment, taught so many lies and deceptions about God, about scripture, and about how to live that to begin to unpack them would entail a multitude of library archives.

Very quiet voices, intervening in the most intimate, life-death moments of trauma, almost like a human placebo, allegedly representing God, laid on hands, prayed over and anointed the dying in dedication to the pursuit of a hierarchy of power, control and spiritual “humility” belied, tragically, in the very act. Performing the penitential, the confession, as an institutional act of “forgiveness” based on the sacrifice of the Cross, these men were alleged to be offering a kind of emotional and spiritual comfort that is based, first on an exclusive claim by the church to have the authority to discharge this “blessing,” these men were/are required to close the ritual by asking the penitent to “pray for me a sinner”….Nevertherless, over the centuries, these same clergy and bishops, in the even to their own “sin,” were themselves exposed to the most viscous and contemptible hatred as the belief system of the institution needed their elimination in order to preserve the “sanctity” and “purity” of the faith. The code of obedience to the authority of the church, as envisioned by the person in power, required even punishments as dire as death, if and when certain people were expressing, doing, committing evil, as the church perceived it.

Naturally, as an integral component of the church’s faith expression, the cultural memes were so integrated into the institutional culture. Conforming, for example, to capitalism, and the elevation of the rich and powerful to the top of the political,  social and cultural totem pole, came embedded into the faith praxis. When those with affluence could be attracted to become active in a parish, their cheques were/are celebrated as ‘gifts of God’ especially where and when a church is struggling financially. (And which church is not struggling financially, over the last many centuries?) Nevertheless, the pandering of the bishops to the rich and powerful was not the only direction of their pandering.

Men, especially robed and mitred, were also skilled panderers to the women in their parishes, dioceses. Linen needed to be cleaned and folded; coffee and tea had to be readied for “community building” and “refreshments;” even lessons needed to be read, and very often lay men were resistant to those invitations. As in every family, women provided many of the services that kept the machine running in an efficient and effective way. Cleaning, decorating, singing hymns and anthems, teaching in the church education activity, networking among the wider community, organizing and hosting bazaars and bake sales, all of these and more activities were then characterized as “better left to the women”…(if we really want them to work!)

Men like and even depend on a division of roles, especially as the divisions attempt to preserve the gender “separateness” and “identities” of each gender. This, it can be argued, is a cultural requirement (unstated) of many men, who, so insecure in our definition of our gender (sexuality) and not a need of most women. Carrying over from centuries of habit, ritualized into liturgy, and then sanctified as “pleasing to God,” many of church habits come barnacled with cultural requirements. The anality of the preservation of some of these habits is evident in the critical and caustic comments of “old hands” in Altar Guilds if and when they notice a linen improperly folded by a neophyte, whom they had studiously failed to “train”.

The church is, unavoidably, a cauldron of boiling ego’s, theologies, balance sheets, repairs, and especially local reputations on numbers and wealth. Each and every  issue carries the overtone of gender politics. In an overt (or even unconscious) and deliberate move to avoid being “domineering” to the women in the parish, male clergy find themselves navigating among the multiple personal agendas of the various women who seek recognition, reward and acknowledgement in the clergy choices of names to fill roles. Some campaign to be treasurer, especially if their need for control “the money” overflows their absolute control of their own family’s budget. Some campaign to be warden, especially if their family were among the original families in the parish, decades ago. Some seek roles as soloists, some as committee chairs, some as leaders of church schools, and some as diocesan representatives. In general, men have to have their arms twisted to assume ecclesial leadership roles.

The church has been oiled by the fuel of women’s belief in its value, in the need for its continuing presence in the community and the opportunity it offers to the women to join a “sisterhood” under its banner. Lay men, on the other hand, are more detached about their relationship with the church, often deferring to the nudges of their spouses to accompany them to worship, and then being dragged kicking and screaming (often laughingly) into some leadership role. Male deference to women, nevertheless, remains a permanent and dominant cultural given in many churches. Little if any conversation about the nuances of scriptural heuristics, the nuances of homilies, unless there was a glaring and impolitic line that enraged some, or of the historic timeline of the community (except at a timely anniversary) can be heard in most parishes.

The health of the balance sheet, the need to find new ways to attract new adherents, especially the young (“whose lives are so busy with the activities of their children!) and the need to order supplies, however, rank high among church conversations. In that pattern, no one is exposed as being confused, troubled, searching or even struggling with a personal issue, or a spiritual/faith issue. In fact, personal questions and issues, are relegated to the clergy as the ‘spiritual guru’ in the venue, likely in the belief that the clergy has been trained to resolve or at least to guide in one’s pursuit of clarity.
Adding to the mystique of the clergy, completely missing from any formal training in seminary, are the multiple projections of the women in the parish, onto the clergy. Some of these projections, naturally, are highly negative; others, quite positive. The capacity of discernment to separate authentic relational attitudes from projections, however, is left to the individual clergy, without the support of people who know the people in the pews, having known most of them for some time, whereas the clergy is often only recently appointed. (It may also be relevant to mention the unconscious projections of male congregants onto female clergy, a subject about which I am ignorant.)

Relationships inside parishes, naturally, swirl around many issues that cross over into the personal lives of people sitting in those pews. Society’s dependence on new digital technology, or the growing epidemic of youth emotional issues, and even suicides, vaping, dependence on alcohol or prescription and/or illicit drugs, and the church’s response to various community/social/political/values issues like teen pregnancy…these are just some of the issues being addressed.

However, over-riding any discussion of issues, including their inclusion in homilies, church study groups, or even in conversations is the question of “how we relate” as members of this congregation. If we are Anglicans/Episcopalians, for example, we do not share our private thoughts, or especially our feelings, unless or until we are so offended that we have no choice. We patronize the clergy homily, as “a nice address this morning,” or we ask politely, “How are you?” as we depart and shake hands with the clergy, and others. Privately, we converse about the “numbers” of parishioners in other churches, especially if those numbers eclipse “ours” or have fallen significantly. Tending also to elevate community leaders, especially those who have chosen “our” church, and especially to elevate those “affluent” serves to underscore and sustain a cultural model which is both literally and metaphorically counter-intuitive to the gospel.

Such deviance, however, is far too dangerous to expose; consequently it goes unaddressed, unless a clergy exposes it for what it is, at his/her serious risk.
After a provincial premier had announced drastic cuts in funding to transit services for the challenged, one clergy challenged the cuts and was effectively removed from the honorary assignment with the charge, “We cannot have the clergy taking on the premier we just voted into office!” (I know, I was the clergy!)

It is amid the rising tide of feminist political activity, that the deferring, mendicant, perhaps passive-aggressive male hierarchical leadership has so demonstrated a self-emasculation, to the detriment not only of the ecclesial institution, but also to the feminine warriors. While it is indisputably true that male clergy, especially among the required celibates, have abused both children and women, (as have men inside families of all social, economic and intellectual levels), it is also true that male ecclesial leaders have forsaken their legitimate role of investigating in detail, all expressions of injustice and abuse. And such investigations have to be based on a very different cultural model than the one that has plagued the church for centuries. What emasculated male is even modestly likely to include in his lexicon the word misandry, when investigating a conflict between men and women? And the word has not gained traction either among women in the west, so females investigating and prosecuting conflicts between men and women are hardly likely to include even the concept in their method and manner of questioning and investigating.

Pandering, even in a passive-aggressive manner, by men in power to women who perceive themselves to be in a submissive relationship, (seriously needing investigation!) serves to preserve a fossilized and stereotypical definition of both men and women. All men and women, no matter the “rank” they occupy in any organization, are first a man or a woman. And that truth is not, cannot, and will not be changed through the assumption of a role in the institution. The flow of one’s emotions, including those of mutual attraction, cannot be circumscribed by the rules of “deportment” imposed by an organization, especially when the imposition is based on a distortion of the integral strength and power and spine of both men and women.

Protecting male executives from the potential of relationships with female subordinates, or the reverse of protecting women executives from similar relationships as a means of keeping uncomplicated the “effectiveness” and the “efficiency” of the organization, is an example of deferment to a political ideology developed and pursued by authentic feminists. Their belief that such a posture offers more safety in the face of a male of “power” elevates the power structure over the authenticity and the integrity of the relationship. A similar elevation of organizational “norms” and needs over the integrous, authentic flow of human emotions between men and women, a river whose source and flow that supercedes its wanton disregard contemporary social and cultural power structures, demeans both men and women.

And the men whose fear of “confronting” the female onslaught of collective power only echoes the cadences of male “inferiority” that comprises many of the foundational principles of the churches’ praxis over the centuries. Confining man-woman relationships to marriage, for example, is another of the unsustainable, and “weak” pursuits of church “fathers” as a way of securing and maintaining control of their parishioners. Confining scriptural interpretation to the endorsement of slavery, capital punishment, and Christian membership to straight men and women are other glaring examples of the weakness, the insecurity and the impotence of too many men. And such impotence is not an indication of the kind of surrender, and vulnerability to which Christian discipleship invites. That kind of vulnerability and surrender, not in service of organizational and hierarchical structure and power, serves as a candle of light in the deep and profound darkness of invincibility, superiority, dominance, righteousness, and the obligation to enforce a kind of justice that fails utterly to consider all of the factors in each individual situation. The cultural (and religious) dictate of silence, avoidance of conflict, and the preference to eliminate offenders, is neither sustainable nor justified. Such a process only underlines the ineffectuality, the political and psychological, and even spiritual avoidance of responsibility.

And it is a male addiction to that invincibility, superiority, dominance, and the concomitant righteousness that erases humility, uncertainty, ambiguity and the pursuit of the whole truth (unimpeded by personal agendas, ambition, and organizational demands) that like the undercurrent in all oceans and rivers, that threatens to overturn the boats of all who ignore or deny its power and eternality.

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