Out for my walk this morning, I walked past a man with a conspicuous man-bun, walking his dog while he casually puffed his 7 am joint. His dog was Pekinese, the variety of dog that Paris Hilton carries in her purse. His top knot did not look like very Samurai. Instead I was wondering if he shaved his chest. He shot me a black look as he knelt down to scoop up his dog’s business and I wondered if he knew what I was thinking. Whatever vision of manhood this was, it’s not an imprint I would like to follow. I keep coming back to the same old stuff in life, the stuff that is tried and true, the stuff that works. I think that’s what older age is about, teaching us that there is really only a a small list of verities, and they have been passed down.
For example, there are a few pieces of literature that are seminal for good reason. I was regaling my wife the other day with stories from Homer’s Odyssey, sure that the tales must also be somehow familiar in the part of the world she came from. The epic adventure of Ulysses is a cliff-hanger, and centres around those prime virtues of hearth and home. Fidelity, strength and honour. The hero’s journey. Ulysses is gone for a decade in the Trojan Wars, and he must use strength and subterfuge to fight his way back home. Once home, he has to defeat the unworthy usurpers who would have his throne, regain his authority, and re-establish the love of his wife. It’s a man’s tale through and through.
I also like to revisit the Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. It’s a great story and I also like that the entire thing came to John Bunyan in a dream, while he was imprisoned for preaching Christianity. The divine inspiration required to get that all down in one go, encourages me that in the worse of situations, God is there. Bunyan’s book of course is in the annals of the few best-sellers world-wide alongside the Bible. Christian, the protagonist of the book, must complete his lifelong quest to shed the crippling burden on his back. He flees the City of Destruction, leaving his scoffing wife and children behind, and he must endure hardships and go through many battles to survive. His is a journey of faith. He does not know where he is going, or how to get there. Christian needs some help along the way, and he gets it, finally reaching the Celestial City where Christ is ruler of all. Pilgrim’s Progress is also a man’s tale. It speaks to the kind of issues a man might deal with in differentiating himself from the world, and following the largely untrod path of righteousness.
There are many battles we encounter in a lifetime. Many of these battles centre around culture and the pernicious effect it has on family and faith. Culture will lull you into dissipation and distraction, like Ulysses was moored on the shores, drawn by the enchanting song of the Sirens. The Hero in every epic tale, must use his powers of discernment, to rightly value that which is worthy, and to shun that which will drag him down. He must set an example for his household, and be willing to fight. There are a small list of things a man must fulfill in a lifetime. He must become accomplished at something, and to work. He must gain the love of one good woman, and to generate offspring into the next generation. If he does not fulfill those first two categories, it’s unlikely his life will amount to much. All the fun in the world will fall short of that small to-do list that comes with manhood.
Like all great literature, the Bible is a call to arms and a reminder to value and fight for the right things. In an age where songs like “Onward Christian Soldiers” is scrapped from hymnals as too warlike, we are reminded that fighting is good, and a worthy pursuit for men. One turn of phrase I really like is that flint metaphor. We don’t have flint anymore so the reference can be lost on us. In more than a few places, resolve is reflected when a man “sets his face like a flint”. Setting a flint is the stuff of weaponry. Flint is naturally sharp, it’s why it is valued as a mineral because the edges break off revealing ever new edges that are ready-sharp. The trick, is to have the flint well set in whatever carrier houses it, be it an arrow, a spear, or tomahawk. The carrier determines the fidelity of the flint. Flint is not a cuddly concept and it’s pretty straightforward as a metaphor.
I really like that when threatened by the Pharisees and warned off by the disciples to go the other way, Jesus set his face like a flint, and headed for Jerusalem. There he would face off against evil, taking on the Devil’s full onslaught at the cross. Jesus did not die some simpering kind of death like a victim. He walked into the battle, and walked out the other side intact as victor. Just like Ulysses of Homer’s epic tale, his courage defied the odds. The journey to the cross is a hero’s tale for all people of all ages, and we are reminded that courage and resolve were backed up with faith to ensure victory.
In all these stories, we see that physical courage is inseparable from moral courage. Like the flint, hardness is a virtue. Tender Jesus meek and mild was the same guy who took on the moneychangers in the temple. He’s the same guy who called out the Pharisees and religious leaders as vipers. Jesus was not pulling any punches. Epic stories do not die for a reason. They are armour we embrace as we embark on a new day and go out to fight the battle.