Wednesday, May 27, 2020

#89 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia ( warnings to men)

In the last piece in this space, we opened, again, the book on misandry, and misogyny, from the perspective of Young and Nathanson, both of whom were conscious, from their own experience that a double standard operates ensnaring both men and women in an “us” versus “them” culture. Let’s try to unpack some of the occasions in which our language and our cultural norms perpetuate this, in an attempt to untie the gordion knot of gender inequality.

If we are going to unpack, and even remediate against misandry, there is a century of work to do. Television is filled to overflowing with ads ridiculing, attacking, and satirizing men, both overtly and more covertly, as if the predominant cultural meme is that women are in charge. And it is clear that, in this culture, men have a significant opportunity to speak up, without taking offence, and counter the tidal wave of what amounts to gender undermining.

And when women lie, or dissemble, or ‘gush’ over some guy, only to turn on him for whatever reason, the dynamic exposes a behaviour as well as an underlying attitude that women can do this with impunity. And, it is obvious that the impunity applauded by other women, is also permitted through the default of many men. (Let’s not deny that some men are reprehensible in their attitudes to some women, considering them and treating them as ‘trophies,’ or a sex-objects, or as “an underclass” or as in the inverse, “uppity” and insufferably arrogant, and presumptuous, whether those words are uttered or not.)

Policies in the workplace, for example, have been constructed around the notion that male supervisors of women are forbidden from having a personal relationship with those women, even if the relationship originates from the overtures of the woman. Similarly, female supervisors are prohibited from ‘crossing that line’ into a personal relationship with a male supervisee. And the impact of these hardline rules, in effect operating on a zero-tolerance base, is to effectively declare both parties “weak” and insubordinate, dismissable and thereby effectively eradicated (politically and morally assassinated) from the community. The human impulse to relate to another, naturally finds more than adequate and available opportunity to take root in workplaces of many kinds. Attempting, for purposes of social hygiene, as well as restraining budget expenditures, not only allows for but actually fosters an “us” versus “them” mentality, that pervades the culture. It is this “us” versus “them” dichotomy, regardless of which gender represents which pronoun, that Young and Nathanson are protesting.

And so is this space dedicated to the proposition that men and women cannot be reduced to stereotypical enemies, unequal emotional, intellectual or political forces, in any situation. And to fall into this trap, as many institutions, including the church, have done is to slide into the hierarchical mind-set, that defrauds the culture. If there is ever to be a reckoning of the distortion that men are automatically more powerful than women, and therefore the going-in assumption  in any conflict is that the man has to be the oppressor, and the woman the victim, the culture, both inside and outside organizations and families, has to reverse the premise that the woman is either incapable of or unable to have an equal voice in the assessment of the “relationship”. And, if the assumption is that the man “oppresses” then the woman can only be considered the victim.

Growing up in a family in which the inverse was true, that the woman was completely dominating of the man (mother over father), and then watching and experiencing directly the “polite” and demur and deferential and even honourable and knightly masculine  responses to situations that required both formal and informal address, I know too well the dangers in this deference, if that is really what it is.

A father who does not confront his spouse about her abuse of the children has failed himself and his children. A male principal who does not confront a female teacher who has abused a student fails himself, the student and the teacher. When a female teacher disregarded a “show-and-tell” bird book brought by a grade two girl, and the parent complained to the principal, the principal’s response was a damning, “Whenever I attempt to discipline her, she accuses me of anti-semitism! There are far too many men, in positions of power and responsibility, who fall into the category of that principal, while the specific circumstances may differ.

Protesting, whether by deploying a false defence, manipulating the facts or manipulating the people and the facts, by women, to escape notice, escape responsibility and to deepen the roots of the “us” versus “them” double standard. It is not only the protesting that that teacher got away with, through the self-emasculation of the principal, the child still has no idea why her book was never used in her grade two classroom.

Another cut on this diamond of female manipulation (and let’s not start accusing this scribe of misogyny here!), arises from a situation in which jealousy has its grip on the woman’s psyche, and when that jealousy explodes into revenge, additional manipulation and betrayal, such betrayal has to be confronted. And such confrontation has to be premised on a kind of investigation into the situation that most men would prefer not to have to enter. Just as law enforcement never want to enter a situation where domestic abuse is occurring, so too, most men in positions of leadership and responsibility, would rather reduce a conflict inside the organization to terms replicating or duplicating or imitating the legal code of human behaviour.

And it is precisely the reduction of human discourse, interaction and relationships to a legal baseline that has been permitted to overtake the lens through which human relationships are perceived, conceptualized, and if need be, investigated. The law is no substitute for common decency, for common sense, or for common expectations of human encounters. If we have to deploy the law, deferring to its definitions, as well as its sanctions, in order to monitor, measure and evaluate human relationships, we have lost our compass bearings.

This week an attorney formerly accused of mis-handling trust funds from a client was acquitted. Only a superficial reading of the news report of the case indicates that the client, a female, had plied the lawyer with gifts, and developed a relationship with the lawyer that extended past the formal lawyer-client guidelines. The public perception is that the lawyer should never have permitted himself to have been “involved” with a client in this way. And there is some limited justification for that view. However, the reporting goes on to declare that the client was an “unreliable witness” given that there were holes in her story, and that she had “performed” a similar treatment (gifts and gushing followed by betrayal) on another professional male.

It is the phrase “unreliable witness” that men must parse, critically, early and often if we are to be able to discern the authenticity of a woman’s advances from advances that are designed and executed to “bring down” the male. And it is a phrase that does not readily come to a man’s mind, upon meeting a woman and finding her interesting and attractive. A woman who had been denied an appointment to which she believed she was entitled, for example, will not stop at seeking and finding opportunity to “get her own back” on the male who denied the appointment for legitimate reasons. A woman whose congregation called the honorary assistant “a leader and you’re not” is going to and has gone out of her way to eliminate such a threat from her circle, even though the assistant neither knew about, nor lobbied for her position. A woman who throws herself at a man, especially an innocent and somewhat under siege man, and then finds that the man has learned more about the potential relationship that would ensue, if continued, and terminates the relationship, can count on retaliation, of a kind rarely if ever to be investigated and named for what it is, especially if men are in power. Even women, when confronted with unassailable evidence of child or spousal abuse by another woman, have been afraid to bring such evidence to light, fearing reprisals from the offending woman.

Of course, all of these examples, while unnerving and unsettling, are nevertheless, rumbling through the clay, the sandstone, the granite and the underground water table throughout North America. Men are, generally, self-gagged from confronting such situations in our own lives, simply for the reason that we do not know how to confront them without triggering even more turbulence. Keeping the peace, as my father owned in declaring my upbringing at what he called the hands of Hitler and Chamberlain (his voice), cannot satisfy either appropriate parenting, nor especially responsive married partnering.

Similarly, bishops who defer (“I have never seen that!”) when told explicitly, “She  (a female clergy in his charge) hates men!” following even a brief review of dismissals of men by such a woman, caught in the web of her own ambivalence, gushing over some attractive male(s) while undercutting others,  with impunity, not only fails his office, he also fails to confront the insidious unconscious Shadow that haunts the faith community.

Frankly, in an argument about shifting the conversation away from “us” versus “them” when the combatants are “women” and “men” respectively, it is significant to note that it is not only a degradation of both genders that is at risk; it is also a degradation of the kind of leadership, mentorship, and especially moral and spiritual example that is missing from our contemporary (as well as historic) mainline clergy. And it is those clergy who share a unique position as prophets and teachers and potential healers, who have the opportunity to both discern and then to articulate a new and fair and potentially more equal and more liberating attitude, belief and even theology.

A theology that accepts and perpetuates a needless and unsustainable and frankly distorted vocabulary of conflict, based on unnatural, distorted and politically correct premises about the relative merits, power, authorship, voice and value of both genders can lead to a crack in the wall of male insecurity, male deferral and male abdication. There is no need for men to fear or to withdraw from or to enjoin a definition of the feminine or to constrain the definition of masculine, if the war of the stereotypes and the misogyny and misandry those stereotypes imprison is to be moderated, if not eliminated.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

#88 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (unpacking misogyny and misandry)


Institutions and organizations like schools, colleges and corporations have clearly defined purposes, expectations, roles and generally acknowledged relationships with peers and supervisors. Their respective existence is defined by the measured  achievement of certain goals that include the promotion (or not) of students and eventual graduation, the sales and distribution of products/services. Even hospitals and libraries, social service agencies and philanthropics, too, have come to be considered under many of the same, or at least similar rubrics, organizational structures, reporting relationships, sanctions and rewards.

Risking over-generalization, for the purposes of comparison with the ecclesial institution, there are numerous and significant differences with secular operations, when it comes to reflecting and evaluating the effectiveness of relationships, and the determination of effectiveness of performance and deployment in institutions designed to bear witness, (a theological term) to a faith tradition, a dogmatic literature, and an organizational framework that is primarily rooted in the deep past.

There is little doubt that this scribe’s expectations of the integrity, authenticity, and carefulness of discipline in maintaining the search for and the application of full disclosure would, could even should be higher in circles of worship than one might ordinarily expect in the secular ethos. And, no doubt, such a premise and expectation plays a significant role in the disappointment, disillusionment and downright shock that I have experienced following five years of ‘formation’ for the priesthood, and nearly a decade of the practice of ministry.

Having been “raised” in a fundamentalist, evangelical, literalist, and dogmatic church, under the “thumb” of the Balleymena-bigot from Northern Ireland, and found his expression of the faith so wanting, and so distorted that I could find no  foundation in the New Testament for his dictates, I left peremptorily at sixteen. Prohibiting dancing, movies, drinking of wine, wearing of make-up and preparation of meals on Sundays were not congruent, in my naïve view, with the word or the spirit of the gospel. Nor was the unequivocal assignment of Roman Catholics to Hell, from the pulpit, a position with which I could acquiesce. So, rejection of the religious experience that had been and continued to be imposed on the congregation of my “family’s” church, forms a foundational basis for much of my religious/spiritual pilgrimage.

The naïve and long-incubating rebellion against abusive authority (embodied in the actions and attitudes and beliefs of my mother) would naturally, if unconsciously, have poured the footings for my departure from the church. Respect for elementary teachers (except one!) and for secondary teachers and principals, however, did not suffer from a similar judgement on my part. The profound tutoring of a twelve-year relationship with my piano teacher, too, informed  and shaped a more balanced view of authentic, moderate, compassionate and challenging mentorship. Similarly, two professional nurse aunts, sisters of my father, contributed more deeply then they could know, to my optimism, hope, energy and commitment to engage in the world.

Friendships with clergy in both Presbyterian and United congregations while teaching also afforded conversations, collegiality and companionship for which I am very grateful. And, in search of a church home for a growing family, I turned to a pastor and church new to both parents of our three daughters, an Anglican, former educator, sometime thespian, and vibrant and creative embodiment of a disciplined, searching, inquiring theology and spirituality. Confirmed first, and then followed by the rest of the family, I participated as fully as time and energy would permit in church committees, including a Viet Nam refugee welcoming committee, one of the most inspiring projects of my life until then, and still four decades later.

A recently deceased female priest, (within the month) then widowed, yet offering a sprightly and warm smile, a mentor’s challenging invitation and embodying what she herself consistently termed of her activity/ministry, “the work of the Holy Spirit” came to my office for lunch periodically. Not incidentally, she did not disagree when her ministry was satirized as a “strong, personal will and creative imagination”. Largely ‘funded’ by her encouragement in planting the seed for studying theology, and enrolling in seminary, (doubtless, she could intuit a marriage floundering!) I began re-considering that prospect, having initially entertained it some 15 years previous, only to reject it on the strength of a declared unilateral divorce, should I enter the church.
I recall, still fresh, a line uttered by the “thespian” priest cautioning about how the church operated, “Well, it certainly does not operate on the level of IBM!” I heard these words shortly after visiting that company to learn about staff communication, accountability and transparency, on behalf of the community college by which I was employed. I believe he followed those words with, “It’s much more on a need-to-know’ basis that communication takes place!”

While I tucked those observations away, I did not pay them the heed they deserved, in my somewhat impulsive decision to enrol in theology. So much of our culture depends on the empirical evidence of ‘things done’ observed, recounted and reported, without paying legitimate heed to the “things undone” that have such a profound impact on our lives. Nothing is more true outside the church, than it is inside the church. I had built my decision to study theology on the premise that a workaholic, applause-driven, Type A forty-five-year-old needed to take a long hard look at myself, my motivations, my sacrifices and my self-delusions. I knew that such reflections would be less impelled by a doctorate that included feverish reading, writing, research and examination of the work of another, or of a potential null hypothesis whose disproof I had to uncover. Spiritual reflection, prayer, silence, retreats and the kind of pastoral engagement with loss, seemed much more congruent with my intent. And to a large degree, that did prove reasonably accurate.

After a summer at the cottage, reflecting on what would be the most pivotal and potentially impactful decision of my life, I packed a few things, enlisted an apartment and showed up on day one for theology 101. Everything about postulants (aspirants for ordination) is required to pass through and in front of the eyes, ears and rumour-mill of the episcopate. As a recently separated man, father of three, I was putting myself under the moral (they would argue theological, ethical and rule-based) microscope of the church’s narrow, and what I now consider extremely judgemental hierarchy, a hierarchy that equated my misjudgement to that of King Edward VIII in abdicating the monarchy for a twice-divorced American woman. In the likely event that a decision by the bishop in support of my appearing before the ACPO committee (Anglican Committee for Postulants for Orders) might not be necessary, the bishop informed me that such an application and appearance would not come in the fall of 1987, when I entered study. I considered the postponement a ‘blessing’ given the horror stories that circulated around class about previous experiences of those who had been rejected as suitable for continuing in the program.

With barely two weeks to complete and to submit an application, I received a call from the bishop’s office that I was to appear before ACPO in mid-October. Compliant, and obedient, I uttered not a word of scepticism. Without any explanation, the original decision had been remanded, and replaced by its inverse. A full biography was required, written and sent to my “Holy Spirit” priest for her reading, prior to submission. When she phoned to discuss, she reported, “Your bio made me cry!” A little intimated by her response, I asked what needed amendment. She deferred. At the weekend itself, everyone is interviewed by three interviewers who then confer and make a recommendation: green light, red light, orange light for further consideration. Nearing the end of the third interview, I heard these words from the female priest then from Oakville, “When I read your bio, I was afraid to come into the room to interview you.” Shocked, and somewhat dismayed, I inquired, “And how are you now?” 
She replied, “I feel fine, and wonder if you would like to sit for a fourth interview.”
“I do not seek a fourth interview, but if you think it advisable, I would be happy to sit for another,” I replied.

Following, the interview, I was given a “orange” light, and the single memorable comment from the fourth interviewer, “What are you doing here after having left your marriage only 60 days ago?”

“I originally thought and was told that I would not be appearing in this session of ACPO, but the bishop’s office called and reversed that original decision,” I responded.
Naturally, returning to class brought with it the inevitable questions, doubts, and rumours about why I was not “green-lighted” although the few liberal classmates I knew were supportive. Immediately after the Christmas break, the bishop and his Chaplain for Ordinands, a Rev. McCrae, a former military officer, met me in the parlour of the college. It was McRae who blurted, without a prior greeting, “Get out of here and get back home and get into therapy!” Silence greeted his bluster, upon which he angrily departed. The bishop, attempting to smooth over the rough edges of his Chaplain, asked, “Would you like a cup of coffee?” I declined.

With the “orange light” and this abrupt judgement, it seemed that I was involved in a conflict, in which I was unsure about the names, nature and weapons of the enemy. Determined to carry on, given the considerable implications of my decision, I listened as the bishop counselled with words that continue to echo these thirty-two years later: “You know, John, people simply cannot stand too much reality!”

Having read that sentiment from T.S. Eliot previously, I was somewhat familiar with their import. However, in this context, I was dumbfounded, given that I naively believed, and still do today, that at least in the church, one might expect a level of courage and openness to seek the truth and the commitment to the needed deliberate processes for reconciling conflicting truths. It is not that a total comprehension of any situation, including empirical evidence, context, motivations and multiple accountabilities can or will even be attained. However, simplistic reductions, based on a single piece of evidence, especially from those considered “elite” cannot and must not be considered adequate for any judgement. And the processes that begins with a blank slate, mentally, philosophically, especially theologically, ethically and spiritually followed by a thorough collection and curation of the whole situation seem to be a minimum bar to which the church can and should strive. The evasion, avoidance, rejection, denial or mere reductionism, of the complexities of the kinds of human encounters that naturally develop within ecclesial bodies in favour of simple and unilateral decisions, with full immunity from appeal, and the ensuing character assassinations so readily devoured and spread by the “religious” from a false, self-imposed self-righteousness, can and will only eat at the core of any faith community. If one is not going to be “known” inside a faith community, by those charged with the leadership of that community, then where might one expect to be embraced for both talents and blind spots. It is in fact, the resistance to “own” one’s own failings, both those committed and those omitted, that compromises individuals, families, churches and secular organizations. And the church, for one, has both the potential and the need to delve into conflict, as the spiritual life is both marred by and injected with the pain of those conflicts and their potential for enlightening all within the circle of participants.

I had not been asked for my side of the marriage, and when I inquired of the Chaplain as to whether or not he had bothered to read my bio, he responded in the negative, as did the bishop. The two men upon whose judgement my candidacy for ordination were to depend, it said to me, had not had the interest, the time, the conviction or the balls to open and read the biography that I had submitted to ACPO. If I were angry at the unprofessional manner of McRae, I was even more disgusted and devalued at his dismissal of the required biography for a role for which he was partially charged with preparing candidates.

And then there were the papers required, especially one by the Dean, whose course on Theological Ethics, posed the topic, “God and the problem of Evil, according to Augustine.” I began reading Augustine, for hours and hours, like the rest of the class. And then, after well over a thousand pages of Augustine, (not to brag, but merely to inform) I began writing, beginning with the notion that Augustine could have written the twelve-step program which comprises the AA program. The dean’s response was to judge the paper “unworthy” of the master’s level. While discussing its contents, he reversed, saying, “I have a totally new understanding and appreciation for Augustine after reading this, but I need quotes; go and re-write with more quotes.” (The whole theology community was aware that the Dean then suffered from a serious alcohol dependency. Did that piece of information cloud his professional academic judgement?
In the late ‘80’s and early 90’s, the feminist movement was washing its wave over the mainline churches and although I had found an introduction to such texts as the Cinderella Complex useful to bring to ‘business English students’ mostly female, while teaching, and had consistently advocated for enhanced opportunities for women in the community college, (not to mention participating in the early lives of three daughters), my professional life had not exposed me to feminism in some of its more virulent forms prior to entering theology.

One female classmate, recently divorced and bitterly and tragically imprinted by negative experiences with her “X,” and I conversed frequently. She also had three children, and had begun her theology studies on the same day as I. From East London UK, formerly married to a police officer, this women had/has spunk, razor-sharp intellect and unbridled courage and a deep reservoir of resentment if not contempt for men. After several months of class, she brought a card to my residence, bearing the words, “Damn, you destroy my picture of men!” Not sure how to ‘read’ the card, while appreciating its support, I nevertheless, on reflection, was confronted for the first time with feminism in all of its complexities. Although we never dated, and she eventually married a college professor of New Testament, the issue of how the church viewed, valued, appreciated and was blinded by feminism is an issue central to the next several years of my existence.

Assigned to a small parish in Scarborough, after transferring to Toronto from London, I encountered a female priest, the first women graduate of the U of T’s Math’s Physics and Chemistry program, and currently a devotee of everything  digital. She had been assigned to a parish in grief following the suicide of the previous clergy at the church altar. Myers-Briggs personality type testing so attracted her that she had the congregation complete the test, and then proceeded to draft homilies to “connect” with the prime categories disclosed by the test. As an INFP (Introvert/Intuitive/Feeling/Processing), her ISTJ (Introvert/Sensate/Thinking/Judging) was an early signal that we were on different planets, as it were.

What I would now call “professional packaging,” the process of walling off one moment from the next, in ministry, could have been a topic she could have (and did) tutor students in ministry. In order to accomplish the feat, one literally and metaphorically have to “move into one’s head” by intellectually wrapping a “bow” around one encounter, in order to prevent its ‘bleeding’ into the next. After service one Sunday, I was approached by a family in some trauma, listened to their story, and walked across the parking lot to a house where the clergy and others had gathered for social time. Immediately upon entering the back door, I heard, “What was that all about?” and when I explained, these words followed from her lips: “OK, put that out of your mind and turn your attention to the folks here right away!”

Not only was I unable to make such a complete and utter “closure” (emotionally or intellectually) of the first encounter, I was unwilling to submit to her direction, although I attempted to “act” as if I had. And, herein lies one of the prime perplexities and complexities, hurdles and perhaps even chasms of working inside the church. Politicians regardless of ideology, put on a face to meet the faces that they meet, in order to move through the various encounters in each day. Some even master the technique when speaking with the media, on the record, knowing full well that their words, attitudes and demeanour will be there to “bite” them should an opponent find and take such an opportunity. In the political arena, too, open debate, based on unique interpretation of a set of facts precedes and grounds the vote on any significant issue. (Fifteen years of covering municipal politics for television and print demonstrated these dynamics weekly!)

In the church, however, rarely, if ever, is there a public display of a difference of opinion. Such conversations, (one guesses they are tainted by some kind of evil) are kept private, confidential and thereby rarely if ever see the light of day. Unfortunately, we all know that the human condition, including those conditions over which the church attempts to counsel (to be polite, or “manage” to be more basic) cannot be contained in the privacy of a Downton Abbey drama, as those characters were determined to contain the most troublesome.

If a church hierarchy decides, for example, that it is time for the institution to begin to open the vault on the position of ‘gays’ in the church, then the discussion is laid out in open dialogue, often heated and perhaps even provoking a delayed decision, given that a near-even divide would render the group in so much tension it might not recover. In some dioceses that divide actually reached those proportions, resulting in the dismissal of clergy who opposed gay marriages, and gay ordinations. The issue of gay rights, then being opened in the public arena, (early 1990’s) impelled church dialogue on the issue.

The question of the relationship between men and women, however, was left to the daily routines, without becoming an issue worthy of formal dialogue among clergy and/or laity. The early waves of feminism, greeted as they were by the conventional wisdom as welcome and interesting and hopeful, had underneath its surface, a very different and more virulent energy. Strident feminists, among whose number this cleric fashioned herself as a leader, would not likely receive formal and open consideration as an issue for public dialogue, given the likely apprehension of the hierarchy over its potential for conflict.

Nevertheless, this female cleric, from my perspective, tended to ‘mother’ some of her female parishioners, most remaining blind or accepting of her gentle yet determined ‘guidance’ (or manipulation). Men, on the other hand, were regarded primarily as functionaries, treasurers, wardens, managers, about whose purpose and function she was both familiar and fully in charge. When my faculty advisor proposed a Lenten Study program around releasing the grief that had never been excised since the tragic death of the former clergy, this cleric, secretly enamoured of the professor, jumped at the proposal. Whether the project itself, or the opportunity to work with this professor of pastoral theology were her primary motivations, I was never clear. Not to be passed over, he was a brilliant Harvard grad, native Bahamian, formerly of Emery University in Atlanta, and doubtless fully cognizant of the complexities of his proposal.

Just one sign of the kind of supervisory conversation that takes place in private came after one of these Lenten study sessions. The subject of the evening was “Betrayal” based on the Judas story of the Last Supper. The comment was made, as thought and conversation stimulation, “If we are going to talk about how we have been betrayed, we also have to direct our attention to those ways and times when we have betrayed others!”

Silence fell like a tarp over the room. The clergy asked, “What do you mean by that comment?” In response, I indicated that while I did not leave my marriage in order to betray my daughters, I have no doubt that they would have felt betrayed by my leaving! The conversation opened, slightly, continued briefly and the session closed with coffee.

Next morning, the cleric reported to the bishop conveying what is known in the business of pastoral care as a “verbatim” a word-by-word account of the conversation from the previous evening. The bishop retorted, “That is evil and has to stop!” Needless to say, the bishop’s response was immediately conveyed to both the professor and the student intern.

A few weeks later, upon learning that I was writing a thesis on the images of death and resurrection in that parish, I received a phone call from his office, inviting me to lunch at the Board of Trade in North Toronto. After a pleasant conversation about trivialities, pleasantries and the occasional political news story, we walked to the parking garage to our vehicles. Prior to closing the conversation, the bishop (the same 6’4” 250 lb. man who declared the above conversation “evil”) jammed his sizeable thumb into my chest while uttering these words: “I am being the bishop right now and I am telling you that you will not ever publish that thesis you are writing. My report on the matter is in the diocesan archives! Do you understand me fully?”

Of course, I uttered a compliant concurrence!
Did he ever mention wanting to read the thesis? Of course not.
Did he ask about the perspective/theme of the thesis? No.
Did he have any trust in what I was about to commit to paper, as a graduating thesis on what has been deemed the single liturgical suicide in Canadian church history? No.
Did I feel valued, honoured and respected in that moment? No.
Did I take any steps to appeal his decision? No.

Our next time to be in the same space took place a few weeks after the
Board of Trade lunch. The bishop had agreed to meet with the congregation, to review the process of how the parish was “doing” following the trauma, some nearly three years ago. Starting out with the pronouncement, “At times like those, we need men like Churchill to provide the leadership needed. And I want to thank the wardens for their leadership under such circumstances.  After further conversation, while listening at the back of the room, I put up my hand, as if I were still a student in school.
“Bishop, I am very happy that you are here to listen to the people of this church; they appreciate your presence and the care you are showing in coming. However, with respect Sir, I have to add that Winston Churchill would have made a lousy grief counsellor!”

Another invisible tarp dropped into the room, silencing everyone, momentarily. What followed escapes memory, except an additional encounter, while vesting for the funeral of that professor, faculty advisor, two years later. That bishop, in full liturgical dress, approached that female cleric and me with these words, “That
work that was done in that parish helped it to heal. Thank you.”

One has to wonder if not for the funeral would anyone have known about the ‘rest of the story’. Doubtful.

Assigned to rural parishes, as student intern and then deacon and then ordinand, I was thrust into situations demanding much more than my depth of experience in the ecclesial institution. Departing clergy after thirty-six years, thrashing over new incumbencies in one parish was followed by my then being thrown “into the deep end of the pool” in the words of a supervising Archdeacon, without so much as an orientation into the dynamics that would confront a new cleric. Silence, once again, prevails, as the bishop refrains from (I would now say “refuses to acknowledge”) properly preparing this innocent, naïve and quite literally green-broke classroom teacher for the assignment.

A few weeks into the assignment, having rented an office in a nearby town, (anticipating the need to escape, without having adequate funds to afford tourist accommodation) I was ordered to appear in the office of my faculty advisor by the bishop. He had been contacted, by the interim in the parish in which I served as summer intern, and informed of my decision to rent the office. He was livid that, without permission, I would undertake to make such a move and demanded a punishment/sanction/dismissal?

At that meeting at Trinity College, in the office of my faculty advisor, the bishop, this accusing priest and I listened as the bishop, who had forwarded written commitment to ordination, announced he was withdrawing his commitment. At this point, my hand involuntarily slammed the table as I shouted these words, “You bastards! I have no idea if I even want to be associated with this church! I want at least a month to reflect on where I might go from here!

I had recently turned down an acceptance to additional clinical pastoral training in chaplaincy in Chatham, and at that moment fully believed that I had made a serious error in judgement by rejecting the opportunity, in favour of the commitment to ordain from the bishop. To say the two-hour ride back to central Ontario from Toronto, in that accusing priest’s Bronco was cold-war-like, in the week of the first Iraq war, is an understatement.

Naturally, when the news of the “withdrawn” ordination reached the people in the parish to which I had been assigned, I faced this question several times over: “What is it like to be hired one day and fired the next?” in blatant, hostile ridicule!
The phone answering machine began to record anonymous messages calling me a heretic, for asking if the book store (operated by the church school superintendent) did or would carry Scott Peck’s books, The Road Less Travelled, People of the Lie and A Different Drum, all of which I had been introduced to while in school.

Within weeks, smelling blood, and swimming for the kill, the warden demanded that he show a right-wing, Texas-based and produced fundamentalist video on a Tuesday evening, announcing his plan during the announcements only to have me countermand his announcement. I had not seen the video, knew that he and his rich and long-standing cohorts considered my homilies “heretical” (that was the word on the street from others, including those operating the church school program) and intuited that they wanted my removal. Meeting the man in the sanctuary, while the congregation had coffee in the hall, I informed him, “I am not leaving, Jim, and I will not permit the video to be shown until I have seen it and made a decision!”
The upshot of this encounter was a letter I wrote, with the support of a supervisor, delivered it to his place of business, in which I informed him that his services as warden were no longer needed.

There is another side to this relationship, too, however, between me and the supervisor who told me, “You are much to intense for me!” to which I instantly replied, “I am also too bald; deal with it!”
Fortunately, or unfortunately, she rushed to telephone the bishop strongly urging him to refuse ordination outright and finally.

After a protracted face-to-face encounter with the bishop in the dining room of the Holiday Inn in Sault Ste. Marie, the bishop commented to an associate about the evening, “I got to know him a lot better!” The ordination was put back on the bishop’s schedule.

It is, however, upon reflection some thirty years on, the issue of how the church then regarded, and still regards the relationship between men and women that has dominated both my time inside the institution and since. The breadth and depth of understanding and appreciation of the feminist movement, by those in charge of mainline churches, cannot be expected to reach into the intricate nuances of psychological transference, by both laity and clergy, nor into the multiple nuances within the feminist movement itself. Most of those men, in the late eighties and nineties and into the twenty-first century, had completed their formal education prior to the emergence of the feminist movement. They had, for the most part, also not participated in what was then called Clinical Pastoral Education (Chaplaincy and Counselling). They had taken their lectures from men and women who themselves were taught and “formed” by a previous generation of theologians, some of whom were steeped in Greek, or Hebrew, or church history, or liturgics, or perhaps the philosophy or psychology of religion generally.

It is not a stretch to imagine the “culture” embedded in the melodrama known popularly as Downton Abbey as foundational to the culture into which candidates for priesthood were thrust in the late1980’s and early 1990’s. Repressed personal emotions, suppressed and ineffective and confidential gossip about rumours, innuendo, and speculation, unconsciousness of projection the unconscious colouring of a person by one’s colouration of another, a deep and unquestioned divide between men and women, as if the two genders were locked in stereotypes that prevented full disclosure by either gender….these are just some of the attributes one experienced in the process of “formation” for ministry. The title of the book, ”God’s Frozen Chosen” is not an accident, but rather a somewhat telling peeling of the cultural onion in which the ‘English’ was encased. Eager anticipation among those theology students whose vision embraced “saving the world from sin” for Jesus, linked intimately to a literal, legal, denotative and determinative reading and interpretation of scripture, injected into the ice-box of the church made for a highly volatile chemistry in a self-contained, and highly ritualized pyramidal organizational structure. Those of us who were struggling to make sense of our own lives, our demons, our relation to God and the implications of that relationship for our lives, both personally and professionally, on the other hand, were considered by the “evangelists” to be heathens, for whom they would be happy to pray.

“Saved” (and going to Heaven) as the other side of the coin of “Sin and Damnation”(and a sentence to Hell) nevertheless, makes a gordion knot, for an organization to either struggle to untangle, or merely to tolerate, without expecting the tension to dissipate. Those students and instructors of the former category, literally spoke a different language from those in the latter. Not able to squeeze into either “camp,” some of us were regarded with suspicion, and even contempt. That contempt was exaggerated out in the world of the practice of ministry. Out here, those needing a bow wrapped around the package of their theology, with black and white answers to life’s basic questions, and for those who sought to meet that need, there could be a kind of adulation for the clergy, as there had been for the clergy who preceded me in my first assignment.

Blind and ignorant, yet highly intuitive, I did not learn of the parish’s history, as one would have wanted, from the bishop, but rather from a 15-year-old at McDonalds, while his mother visited the restroom. The previous clergy had, allegedly shot a dog and turned the gun on the owner of the dog in a personal dispute. No one, from the diocesan office, nor from the congregation itself, mentioned this information. The difference between his 45-50-minute sermons and the 12-15 minute offerings I provided was noted, and not in a friendly or supportive manner. The implication was that I was somehow jilting them, and clearly the content, as mentioned above, was unsettling for them.

So with rumblings not contained in private conversation, but erupting in “heretic”   phone recordings, and even “you are the anti-christ” recordings on that same machine, linked to valid suspicion of house break-ins where I lived, an open rebellion to remove the acting cleric, a history of unresolved grief and loss at the rupture of the departure of the former clergy, all of this in a church of fewer than 50, in a village, (actually three villages in a three-point charge, totalling not more than 500 people)…conditions were, to say the least, somewhat overwhelming. The bishop’s assistant, after a visit, called from the diocesan office to comment, “I could not have withstood the conditions you are working under!” Nevertheless, dumb and determined to erase the bishop’s earlier suspicion that I would not “stay” and demonstrate dependability, I vowed to continue.

It was, however, my succumbing to a female advance, in the middle of this storm, that I failed myself, and only when she allegedly was provoked to betray the fall, by an irate, vengeful, ally of the displaced warden, was I removed. There was absolutely no investigation, no gathering of evidence, given that the offended, self-proclaimed provocateur, herself a member of the founding family of one of the three parishes, was considered “inside” the circle of influence including the bishop and his Archdeacon. My theology, my intolerance of dominance by self-declared elite gate-keepers, my failure to garner adequate lay support, my naïve and blind ignorance that I could withstand the situation, and my error in judgement were my undoing.
Shame, guilt, and the confluence of emotional, intellectual and physical exhaustion are some of the components of what many call the “dark night of the soul”. I believe, after I stop driving, I wept for several hours, in the basement of another cleric’s home, that former female for whom I interned.

After taking me in, and helping me get back on my feet, through an honorary appointment to a different parish with this cleric, I once again found myself confronted by two forces over which the church had/has no apparent capacity, process, understanding or willingness to confront. The cleric’s feminism and the congregation’s links to the fundamentalist, evangelical, literal band of worshippers who had connections in the city parish.
Writing on a blog, February 29, 2016, entitled, Replacing Misandry: A Revolutionary History of Men, Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young, both of McGill, pen these words:

(seeing a double standard)…”undermining sexual equality was a form of ideological feminism that either explicitly or implicitly views women as superior to men…We call this form of feminism  “ideological” because of its many parallels with other political ideologies on both the left and the right. Like other ideologies, this form of feminism divides the world into two camps: us (a class of innocent victims) and them (a class of oppressors), As a result we now have both misogyny (hatred toward women) but also misandry (hatred toward men). This ideological worldview is not only profoundly gynocentric-revolving around the needs and problems of women to the exclusion of men’s—but also profoundly misandric--as if two wrongs can make a right.

They continue: Not surprisingly, our work provokes hostility from many women—especially those who believe in ideological forms of feminism, as distinct from egalitarian ones. In addition, though, we provoke hostility from many men—especially those who believe that every traditional notion of masculinity is worth preserving. But what if those points of view of inherently tendentious and therefore unreliable? What if truth, especially truth about the human condition, is inherently complex and therefor ambiguous? What if both women and men have characteristic disadvantages? What if only a few men actually benefit from “male privilege,” while most men pay the cost? What if justice is about reconciliation, not retribution or revenge in one direction or the other?

Our goal…is to replace a misandric theory of history—a profoundly cynical one that ideological feminism promotes—with a new theory. To do this, we must reconstruct the history of men—which is to say, the history of how societies have perceived the male body and therefore how they have defined masculinity. This takes us way beyond the immediate past in one society. In fact, it takes us back around twelve thousand years to the Neolithic and Agricultural Revolutions—the first of several ethnological and cultural revolutions such as the Industrial Revolution (universal military conscription for men), the Sexual Revolution, (reliable birth control) and the Reproductive Revolution (new reproductive technologies).

….Men have found it increasingly hard to establish a healthy identity specifically as men. A healthy identity is, by definition, one that allows people, personally or collectively, to make at least one distinctive, necessary and publicly valued contribution to society. Historically, the male body allowed men to do so. For various reasons, that’s no longer the case. Women, it would seem, can do everything that men can do. Women certainly don’t need men to provide for them and their children or even to protect themselves (both, if necessary with help from the state). The only exception, so far, is fatherhood. But even that’s very contentious in a world that sees no significant difference between mothers and fathers (aside from gestation and lactation) and therefor understands fatherhood as assistance motherhood at best…..” Young and Nathanson, reprinted in idees-ideas.com/blogue..produced by/for the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

The highly nuanced, insightful, and compelling argument made by Young and Nathanson, above, while underscoring some of the arguments about a masculine “constructed” history, theology, science, military, organizational efficiency and capitalism/socialism, not to mention major philosophic concepts, that undergird the totality of the thesis of these pages, was not, and is still not, part of the worldview of most contemporary theologians, ethicists, or especially practicing clerics. And while they further advocate for enhanced listening to men and importantly by men, they recognize that complete reconciliation between the genders is still in the distance.
It is from my experience, as a survivor of child abuse, female teacher abuse (in grade 4), my own transference of my intense bitterness toward my mother to, for example both a Zoology and a Child Psychology professor in undergrad, both of whom exhibited a cold, unfeeling, dispassionate and detached professionalism with which I could not relate, and my unfiltered view of men who, whether consciously or not, withered under the political weight (and presumed ethical imperatives) of the feminist movement within the “English church” on both sides of the 49th parallel, perpetuating both a distorted, stereotypical and dysfunctional definition of the feminine (as superior) and the masculine (as oppressor).

This dichotomy had been painfully and graphically incarnated in my “family of origin” where my mother dominated my father, repeatedly charging that he was “no good” a charge then turned toward her only son, and imprinted itself on my psyche. It is not surprising, then, that might be engaged in a process of unpacking some of these stories, in the light of those early experiences. Convinced that men have not stepped up to the plate, of both personal and professional responsibility, as well as advocacy for other men, men in positions of power, authority, responsibility and care for their supervisees, nor have they, for the most part, been willing to unpack the cage in which masculinity has been locked for too long.

It is past time to call for, first church leaders, of both genders, and then academic leaders of both genders, to begin to peel the twin onions of stereotypical gender identities, and their abusive shadows of misogyny and misandry.

Or will we have to wait for our grandchildren’s university experience to begin to see the crack in those nefarious edifices letting the light in?

Friday, May 15, 2020

#87 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Emotions and archetypes)


Yesterday’s rant in opposition to the seemingly endless perpetration of violence  by men against women must not be allowed to stand alone, without follow-up. In an earlier piece, we referenced Liz Plank’s “love letter” to men, in advocacy of what she claims is poisonous testosterone.

Another work that appeared in 2004 is bell hook’s “The Will to change: Men, Masculinity and Love” and rather than “excoriating the worst behaviour of men, hooks analyses masculinity as a kind of regime that oppresses everybody, including men. She sees child abuse, sexual abuse, and shaming as rampant conditions that predispose psychologically damaged boys to violence.” (From The New Yorker Radio Hour, November 17, 2017.)

In the goodreads review of bell hook’s book, we find this:

“Everyone needs to love and be loved—even men. But to know love, men must be able to look at the ways that patriarchal culture keeps them from knowing themselves, from being in touch with their feelings, from loving. In “The Will to Change,” bell hooks gets to the heart of the matter and shows men how to express the emotions that are a fundamental part of who they are—whatever their age, marital status, ethnicity or sexual orientation. With trademark candor and fierce intelligence, hooks addresses the most common concerns of men, such as fear of intimacy and loss of their patriarchal place in society, in new and challenging ways. She believes men can find the way to spiritual unity by getting back in touch with the emotionally open part of themselves—and lay claim to the rich and rewarding inner lives that have historically been the exclusive province of women. A brave and astonishing work, “The Will to Change” is designed to help men reclaim the best part of themselves.”

In this space we have been peeling the onion of masculinities, including the constrictions of patriarchy, and the ease with which men accept the peer pressure to conform. Resisting the social, family, educational, political, economic and even religious pressures to “conform” to a culture whose basis includes and is dependent upon a monotheism, an empiricism, a literalism, and nominalism, and the legalisms and medical regimes built on these pillars, however, amounts to more than simply getting in touch with our “feelings”.

A conflation of psychology and religion, for example, compounds the psychic framework of many men, attendant as we are to a “system” of thought, a metaphysic and especially an ethic that is clear, eminently digestible, easily transmitted to children, and also transmitted as well as sanctioned in teams and  organizations. “Task” -directed, -focused, and -delivered, in the literal, and thereby rewarded manner, is like a heading on a tablet delivered by whichever ‘moses’ came down from the mountain top with a tablet on which these words were inscribed. From a theological perspective, the book of James exhorts readers, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2: 26) In a culture whose foundations were poured by the hands and the blood and sweat of ‘puritan’ religious in Great Britain, reared in a faith in a male God and His male Son Jesus, so earnest it sparked a Civil War in England and a revolution in the American colonies, and then such discipline and effort and endeavour were transferred to a pioneer and capitalist people, there can be little wonder that “works” come to define the men and women whose heritage and legacy centred on their concept of faith and religion.

Let’s resist any attempt to simplify what has come to be known as the patriarchy today, in a culture swimming in the words, protests, hashtags and litigations authored by more than one generation of women intent upon their own revolution. Even the notion of social, familial, corporate, military and health care structure is based on a power pyramid, a moral code for which men bore much of the duty to sanction (“Wait until your father comes home!”) The Pope, the military Generals, the Kings and Emperors, all of them embody the concept of singular, male, even in some theoretical instances, a “divine right of kings” kind of legitimacy. And in that vein, both of thought and of cultural and political development, with power ‘starting” at the top, with God metaphysically, metaphorically, and then imitated by humans,

·        whose documentation was scribbled primarily by other men,
·        debated in the streets by primarily men,
·        executed in the courts, primarily by men,
·        policed on the streets and alleys, primarily by men,
·        delivered in the nurseries and
·        operated in the operating rooms primarily by men
·        preached from the pulpits, primarily by men
·        and whose intellectual, academic and professional definitions, parameters, expectations, standards and rewards were determined primarily by men
The sheer, unequivocal, undisputed and perhaps even undisputable force and power that engineered the culture flowed from the brains, the muscles and the ethics of men. (This is not to acknowledge that women had no significance, merely that the division of labour was, for all practical purposes, exclusive.)

And in that light, the pursuit of anything looking like stability in the face of illness, poverty, hunger, separation, alienation and death itself, seemed to many to depend on a minimal, if any, recognition, and concentration on one’s emotions. Even literature, for the most part, was confined to male writers, with an occasional woman writing and publishing under a male name (George Elliot, for example). The stories of women, through such luminaries as Jane Austin and The Bronte  Sisters, shone through the vale of male-inked fiction and non-fiction, as a beacon of both anxiety and hope, depending on one’s perspective.

The slide from a puritan idealism, and the cultural concentration on the individual (the single and sole recipient of the words and spirit of God!) supported and enhanced the divide between the human and nature, as did the invention of the printing press accentuate the divide between the ‘schooled’ and the illiterate, both literally and metaphorically. Power and authority over what the culture considered “right and wrong” rested with the church, which in England was twinned so deeply, and so intricately, with monarch as “head of the church of England.” And in this ethos and from this cultural soil came another divide, not only between the upper and lower classes, but also between the “righteous” and the “heathen.”
Colonialism, even among the same people living in the same villages, towns counties and cities exercised control by some (few) over others (many) who, by their very impoverished condition (hungry, uneducated, frightened to disobey or even to speak up against abuse, frightened of punishment, incarceration, and additional destitution), before such dominance was exported to the colonies themselves.

In a sociological development fueled by the rise of a middle class of increasing affluence, labour rights and protection and political access to power through the ballot, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, focused on the crown of self-actualization, “dreams” both of the individual and the nation rose to prominence. And, the most obviously denied aspect in the private lives of both men and women, in that pursuit, were the human emotions, additional evidence of the “superiority” of the human species over nature and the animals.

Control of emotions, then, came to rival control of the family budget, accompanied and supported both by the pharmaceutical industries and the therapy segment. As feminine sensibilities already “knew” more and appreciated the importance ofc feelings far more than their male counterparts, women readily opened to the adventure of self-exploration of how they might express themselves, especially with other women. And the trend, feminine by numbers, dollars and stereotyping by men as somewhat frivolous and exclusive to women, excluded men, partly if not primarily authored and executed by men themselves (ourselves). The entertainment sector triumphed with and through movies and television shows that teased, tickled, aroused and depressed the emotions of the audience. The literary values, including the traditional literary criticisms so vaulted and valued in classical and academic and traditional theatre, tended to be somewhat obscured by ratings, ticket sales, and box-office revenues.

More “masculine” flicks did not disappear, while remaining tightly within the circumference of conventional, cultural, parameters of “hard-nosed” masculinity. Their perspectives and subjects diverged from those of their female counterparts, tending to political, detective, explorative, and even historic subjects and persons.
One American male writer, Ernest Hemingway, for example, put his heroes face-to-face with serious conflict as a way of demonstrating the strength, the courage and the resiliency of those characters, as if to imply that one’s emotions were unable to be extracted from one’s attempts at the heroic. His own suicide,  tragically, attests to some dark demons that may have driven much of his life and writing.

The plea among those advocating that men “claim” our emotions, learn the multiple words and nuances that express those nuances and join the conversation about emotions is one to which I have been dedicated for more than two decades. However, through reading such “people” as James Hillman, (The Soul’s Code, Revisioning Psychology) I agree with Hillman in two respects. First, with the river of therapy flooding its banks, we appear to be no more psychically and emotionally healthy than we were prior to the deluge. Second, emotions are somewhat fickle, somewhat unpredictable, while illuminating in the sense of trigger intuitions that can point us in a direction that might need further investigation. We men and women, are much more complicated than evidence derived primarily from our emotions. We are each engaged, with or without our consciousness, in patterns of events, relationships, dramas, that may not be under our control, even if we think and believe that we are writing the script and then enacting it.

So, to bell hooks, and her authentic love and care for and of men, I gently urge a re-consideration of the masculine perspective on the need for men to “claim” our emotions. Our inner life, for example, comprises all that is going on in our imaginations, not only our feelings. And while our feelings may surface long before we have thought through what might be happening in our lives, and which god or goddess might at any moment “have us” in his/her grip, we are, through a lens Hillman introduces as “archetypal psychology”.

Let’s review one of Hemingway’s more renowned quotes, through the lens of Hillman’s archetypal psychology’s questions, speculations, interpretations and imaginings. Here is the quote:

The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.

Surely, we can all agree that this is a portrait of Hemingway’s hero.

Now let’s review Hillman’s portrait of the hero:

The archetypal perspective offers a host of events from different areas of life, The archetype of the hero, for example, appears first in behaviour, the drive to activity, outward exploration, response to challenge, seizing and grasping and extending. It appears second in the images of Hercules, Achilles, Samson (or their cinema counterparts) doing their specific tasks; and third, it a style of consciousness, in feelings of independence, strength, and achievement, in ideas of decisive action, coping planning, virtue, conquest (over animality), and in psychopathologies of battle, overpowering masculinity and single-mindedness.

Hillman continues:

The example limps, of course, because the hero archetype appears not so much in a list of contents as it does in maintaining the heroic attitude toward   events, an attitude now so habitual that we have come to call it the “ego,” forgetting that it is but another archetypal style.(James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p xx)

Hillman posits a rich compendium of archetypes, gods and goddesses, whose imprints and constellations continue to offer enriched perspectives of variety, diversity, based on a polytheistic vision from the Greeks, rather than on a monotheistic perspective. He is not offering a lens to or for a new religion. He is rather de-conflating the contemporary Siamese of religion and psychology, leaving to religion the absolutes, while retaining for psychology, the option of multiple perspectives, multiple interpretations, multiple voices that continue to live and breathe in our lives.

Ascribing angels to words, and gods and goddesses to our lives, shifting from situation to circumstance, yet holding fast to an imaginal, rather than a literal, nominalistic, reductionistic perspective of what it is to be a human. Pushing back against the classification of aberrant behaviour as either “sick” (abnormal psychology) or “criminal” (needing the judiciary systems’ reckoning), without retaining either denial or ignorance of psychopathic behaviour, Hillman seems to seek a more inclusive, broader more sensitive and more sensible view of the  complexity of every human being.

And, as Hillman disdains our culture’s embeddedness in the heroic archetype, at the expense of a plethora of others, we, perhaps unconsciously, sabotage the process of self-discovery. And while that process includes our emotions, it does not stop there, but extends further into a more complex appreciation of the voices playing our in our imaginations, as a minefield rich in both the exploration and in the discovery…even if those discoveries prove somewhat partial, ambiguous and teasing of further reflection.

Men need to let go not only of our vaulted hearts, but our equally walled and dry imaginations, only to swim in new waters, of our own souls.