Sunday, January 8, 2012

In Praise of Gentle Men

     Tim with little tiny Henry

I’m married to a gentle man. Not a gentleman, though I suppose sometimes he is that. A gentle man.

In more than eight years, I’ve rarely heard Tim raise his voice. He roughhouses with our older son, and I’ve seen him wrestle with his younger brothers, but he has never displayed his anger with physical aggression toward anyone or anything, ever.

In fact, he’s rarely angry at all. He doesn’t hide it or bottle it up, except on occasion, as most people do. He lets it go. He pauses, he reflects, he prays, he thinks. He asks whether anger will fix a problem or improve a situation -- and the answer is usually no. Even in situations of injustice or evil, he is not fooled into believing that “righteous” anger is helpful, or even real. He chooses to use his energy to communicate, build people up, and seek solutions.

He’s probably totally embarrassed reading that, and he might argue with it, but it’s what I see in him. His gentleness, kindness, and self-control (sound familiar?) are an enormous part of why I love him.

I try to be more like him, though my impulses tell me to yell, to throw, to hit. Most people who know me as an adult think of me as fairly mild-mannered, but know that when I joke around about wanting to punch people in the nose, I really want to punch people in the nose. (I did it, once, in fourth grade, to a boy who was making fun of my brother. It felt awesome. But it didn’t accomplish much.)

So why, today, am I talking up my gentle Tim? Because I’ve been reading lately about a movement within my faith that is pretty nasty toward gentleness.

Pastor Mark Driscoll, of Mars Hill megachurch in Seattle, has been getting a lot of attention lately for a new book on sex and marriage he wrote with his wife. I haven’t read it (and probably won’t – way too busy with so many fun books on my Kindle!), so I won’t comment on it here. However, in  reading about his new book, I’ve learned about some other statements he’s made, and I really don’t like them.

Now, I imagine the dude says plenty of things that are interesting and enlightening and totally fine. (He is a frequent user of the word “dude,” which I can’t fault.) But he’s also said stuff like the following, summarized nicely in an excellent 2008 Christianity Today article:    

‘According to Driscoll, "real men" avoid the church because it projects a "Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ" that "is no one to live for [and] is no one to die for." Driscoll explains, "Jesus was not a long-haired … effeminate-looking dude"; rather, he had "callused hands and big biceps." This is the sort of Christ men are drawn to—what Driscoll calls "Ultimate Fighting Jesus." '

[later in the article] "real men"—like Jesus, Paul, and John the Baptist— are "dudes: heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes."

(Note: I try not to be too uptight about language. In fact, I’m going to amend “stuff like the following” to “shit like the following.” But I am not OK with using words like “queer” in a way designed to hurt others, as is done above. Also, I kind of like Richard Simmons. Especially Robotic Richard Simmons. Back on topic …)

I was pretty floored by this when I first read it, and other statements like it. I was doubly floored when I started to learn that this is a whole movement, sometimes called the Christian masculinity movement, and that it’s gaining in popularity. I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to learn about, especially considering Driscoll spoke at a large church conference in my own town a few months ago, but hey – I’ve got a lot on my mind, I can miss a few things, OK? 

Now that I’ve learned about this, though, I’ve been deciding how to respond to it. I’m certainly only one small voice in a pretty big sea of criticism (just Google it), but I feel like I should contribute.  I’ve considered punching someone in the nose, but I’m not sure it would have the desired effect.

On the one hand, I agree that we do sometimes make Jesus out to be a pushover, and he’s not. (That’s a topic for another time, I guess.)   But I’m disturbed by “Ultimate Fighting Jesus,” by this weird macho, violent, angry version of what it means to be a man, especially a man who follows Jesus.

So I’m going with praising my gentle husband – who, by the way, is 6’1”, has callused hands, loves video games, goes fishing, wears flannel, and is stereotypically “manly” in plenty of ways. He could bench-press Mark Driscoll – but he wouldn’t hit him.

And I'm going to praise a small number from the long list of men I know who show that they don't have to fit any certain definition of masculinity, especially one characterized by aggression:

My grandfathers. One is a farmer-massage therapist-painter with a long hippie ponytail and colorful earrings who loves good jazz, good wine, and long hours digging in the dirt. The other is a carpenter-pastor who loves fishing and pinochle and could nap while a volcano erupts outside his window. They’re very different men, but they’re good men, strong men, and gentle men.

My brother. People were sometimes cruel to him when we were kids, and I’d look for a head to knock off, while he’d turn the other cheek. Eventually I figured out he was demonstrating the better way.

And my dad. I inherited my impulse toward aggression from him. I’ve seen him really mad, he’s seen me really mad, and we’ve gotten really mad at each other plenty of times. But he’s always encouraged me to do better, to seek peace, to channel my frustrations into something constructive.

I could go on, but I’ll throw in one last one,  the husband of one of my best friends. He’s an actual ultimate fighter—a mixed martial artist, jujitsu coach, and total badass. But I’ve never seen him fight. I’ve seen him play with his children, adore his wife, create incredible art, and behave with exceptional gentleness. He doesn’t share my faith, so I don’t know what he’d think of “Ultimate Fighter Jesus,” but something tells me he wouldn’t buy it.

I’m not saying that Mark Driscoll or any of the men in this masculinity movement aren’t also good husbands and fathers and friends, that they don’t display gentleness and peace in their lives.  But they’re selling a message that devalues what I value most in the men I know – including Jesus.

They’re selling force instead of strength, aggression instead of assertiveness, dominance instead of leadership.

Let all the gentle men and the women who love them say – with gentleness and respect – we don’t want this.
Yes, aggression and anger and nose-punching are in the nature of many men (and many women). And God loves us as we are – but he doesn’t leave us as we are. We are invited to be transformed, to transcend, to leave our weaknesses behind and be filled with a better way.


Now it's your turn, in the comments! Praise a gentle man of your own -- or argue with me -- or whatever. Let's hear it!


  1. Have you (or Tim) read "Wild at Heart" by John Eldredge? We loved it. It talks a lot about men's desires and being a "manly man" and doing "man things" can take so many different forms. Like my TJ is an intellectual man and not very physical — but he does mental gymnastics that would make my former beau (your classic outdoorsy hunter guy) lose his mind.

    I think Jesus was perfectly balanced — he showed "righteous anger" (temple-clearing anger) when it was needed and he didn't put up with people's B.S. He wasn't a doormat, but he wasn't a jerk. I don't like a vision of Ultimate Fighter Jesus — I think more of maybe Righteous Defender Jesus. That's fine if he has biceps, but he better be willing to let me curl up in his lap.

  2. Tara, this was wonderful and I loved reading it. Your praise of gentle men in your life was moving (of course I liked that part). We don't share the same faith but your expression of your own faith shows true love and I deeply respect you for that. Keep writing incredible posts! <3

  3. Better a patient man than a warrior; a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city Proverbs 16:32 Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways Proverbs3:31 A kind man benefits himself Proverbs 11:17 A gentle answer turns away wrath Proberbs 15:1

  4. I love it! Would love to use it as a guest post at some point, if you're interested.

  5. Just the other day I was thinking about how a number of years back the authors of the Left Behind series were trying to sell the image of the "real" Jesus--warrior Jesus with sword in hand. I've never been able to figure out these people who think this is who Jesus was, since the Bible has nothing that supports this image. Jesus was all about peace and compassion and turning the other cheek.

    Great post.

  6. Sav - You've mentioned "Wild at Heart" before, so I've got it on my radar -- just need to actually read it! Hmm wonder if they've got it for Kindle ...

    Melanie -- Anytime! I'd be honored to be a guest poster. Just copy and paste! (And link to the blog :) )

    Esme - It's a complicated issue. Jesus is the gospels is so clearly compassionate gentle, even when he's being direct and calling people out (usually the proper, religious-types of the day). I think the Jesus-as-sword-lovin-warrior comes mostly from Revelation, which some people believe is very literal, including the authors of the Left Behind series. Others find it metaphorical ... but that's a debate I usually try to avoid!

  7. I love this blog post! Sums up exactly what I find most comforting, desirable and wonderful in my husband. I almost stopped reading it when I saw Mark Driscolls name (NOT a fan of anything associated with Mars Hill or Rob Bell, icluding Driscoll). I do not agree with his statement either about "real men" and why they avoid church. It's just another lame excuse to promote a cause that's based on nothing more than his projections of what a Christian man should be. (shudder...) I just don't like him.

    Great post! Keep 'em coming!

    1. I'm glad you like it :) I think it's so important to build up our guys and praise them for who they are.

      But my brain did do a double-take on your comment about Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll -- because those two dudes have some seerrrriously different theology -- and lo and behold, there are *two* Mars Hills churches out there! Bell's is Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI, Driscoll's is Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I did not know that!

    2. I, too, did not know that. And as far as a connection, the last time I did any research into Rob Bell and his Mars Hill Church was in 2007 and at the time, I seem to remember a connection between the two men, I could be wrong however, and will look it up. Rob Bell gives me the creeps and I hate his messages, hopefully Driscoll is moving away from the emergent church movement(another thing I seriously hate). Oh, and let's play some Words with Friends, I need more challenging opponents. :)


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