Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Locusts & Honey: Men and Contemporary Worship

John points to an article by Dave Murrow on why "men" don't get into contemporary worship, and I found myself for the most part agreeing with John's criticisms. And yet....

It struck me that I'd have a lot less trouble with what Murrow is saying if it wasn't couched in terms that seemed to make the kind of men he's arguing on behalf of normative, and those who differed something less. Tell me there's a group of men whose spiritual needs aren't met by modern praise and worship styles and we can discuss how to meet those needs(which may be exactly what Murrow's aiming at). Tell me, implicitly, that those men should be regarded as normative and, like it or not, whether we're aware of it or not, the underlying argument is going to shift to who can claim to be a normal, "real" man.

We can attribute this somewhat to the fragile male ego. But another aspect of this, I think, is the framework we use in dealing with masculinity and femininity. We tend to regard masculinity and femininity as if they were each a single, monolithic thing. To some degree, this is understandable, as we live in a worldly culture which tends to blur the distinctions, and in asserting that there is a distinction, it's easier to do if if we regard each of them as a single monolithic characteristic. But this tends to lead to a strict conformity-based identity, with not much room for individuality.

At this point, I'm going take C. S. Lewis's tack, and say that if what follows helps you, good, but if not, ignore it. The framework I work with on masculinity and femininity is that they're distinct, but not monolithic. Each is a melange of ingredients, with each ingredient capable of existing in a stronger or weaker state in an individual. Part of what makes up a man's individual personality is the individual strength or weakness of each of the ingredients that make up masculinity. Strength of a particular ingredient doesn't mean he's 'more masculine', nor does weakness mean he's less, but the various strengths produce the particular 'flavor' of a man's masculinity.

Complicating this whole mess (and it is complex, because a person's personality is much more than that person's masculinity or femininity - there are plenty of ingredients which are separate from either, and it's possible to have a personality 'ingredient' that's typical of the opposite sex, but is part of one's personality, but not part of one's sexuality) is that we're fallen. And to me that means not only that we tend to sin, but that our humanity has been twisted. As G. K. Chesterton put it, the answer to the question 'what, then, is the meaning of the fall' is "whatever I am, I am not myself". The fall tends to twist and pervert the good things God has created in us, making them more selfish and self-centered. This means that our pursuit of holiness is going to involve not getting rid of ingredients, but finding out how they've been twisted, and untwisting them. This is partly why I tend to see restoring a Biblical sense of servant authority and leadership (something that seems to be generally lacking) as more important than dealing with gender issues, as our approach to dealing with gender issues seems to be that of removing ingredients that would actually end up 'untwisted' if the servant leadership issue was dealt with.

With that in mind, I have to wonder if the problem with the particular ingredients Murrow is emphasizing is that we normally deal with or think of them in their twisted form. If so, then in responding, we need to both seek to understand where the twist comes in, which will give us a clearer picture of what the untwisted ingredient would look like, and seek to make sure that the need represented by the untwisted ingredient is given a place to be met.

Sigh. Is that coming across as as mixed a metaphor as I think it is?

1 comment:

Whyte Stonne said...

I believe that the following paragraph from Reverend David Murrow's article "English Vicar Battles Feminized Church" exemplifies the whole tone and tenor of his own article.

"The Church of England also likes to encourage a few ‘exotics’. So if you are black, working class or a woman who is younger and attractive, you can be a bit ‘unsophisticated’ in your beliefs, or ‘edgy’ in your personality — but only because your very exoticism means you are not a threat to the institutional norms."

The good reverend is just the slightest bit edgy, proof to his parishoners that he's an independent cleric who can think outside the box. Hmmm . . . but he's "not a threat to institutional norms."

Reverend Murrow complains that "men are regularly portrayed as buffoons in advertising, whilst women are paragons of competence."

He then shares the results of a poll in which "2/3 of respondents thought that...the men [featured in advertisements] were “pathetic and silly.”

Yet look at how he describes an epiphany he had, "one of those ‘Oh my goodness!’ experiences, like noticing your fly has been open all the time you’ve been giving a public speech."

He's obviously been P.U.I. (Preaching Under the Influence).

Since I was a kid, I've heard people ponder the predominance of women in the pews. I'd be curious when that has not been the case.

I think he has hit the nail on the head in searching for the reason for denominational decline, and the blame is not feminism.

"The Church of England [and all other denominations, this author would add] consciously selects a certain kind of person for the work of ministry. But within this tendency, there are two options. The majority are the ‘reliable’ type — those who will fit in and not rock the boat."

Conservative or liberal, denominations want to screen out people who rock the boat. After all, we have a business to run!

I have no doubt that Reverend Murrow would like to find a solution to the problem of denominational decline.

His problem: the decline of the denominations is not a problem for God. Murrow and the others are attempting to serve two masters, God and Christendom.