Archives For Manhood

With the release and success of the movie, American Sniper, whether they have seen the movie or not, everyone in the country, including many around the world, have strong opinions about it.

url-1Some say the movie is propaganda. Some say Chris Kyle is a murderer and a racist. Some say this is the greatest war movie of the past twenty years.

Unfortunately, most of these people have completely missed the point of the movie.

First, all war movies have a level of propaganda in them; from Band of Brothers to Saving Private Ryan, Platoon to Top Gun, and Lions for Lambs to Lone Survivor. Each one was created to cause viewers to learn and feel and do something.

Not every war movie resonates with people on such a mass scale, though. That is why American Sniper is so fascinating and worth the time to evaluate why.

It’s important to revisit the structure and purpose of a good story in order to best evaluate why this has happened.

Jonah Sachs writes from Winning the Story Wars,

“Good stories are structured just like baseballs. On the surface, we find the story’s visible elements: the setting, the characters, and the actions those characters undertake. These are the elements of stories we’ve all been familiar with since childhood. We know the cover and think we know everything there is to know. But there is so much more.

Just beneath the surface, the story finds its structure in the moral of the story. Without some kind of moral we instinctively reject a story as poorly told.

And then there’s the story’s core, hidden one layer deeper at the center of it all.

The values at the core of the myth provide its meaning and, unless we are looking for them, these values often remain hidden from our conscious minds.

Ultimately in a good story, the hero grows up.

Good stories are about healing a broken world through a life’s journey. Perhaps that was the point of the creators.

How does this apply to American Sniper?

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Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

 

In the movie, we follow Chris Kyle, a boy growing up to become a man. If this were Greek mythology, the Texas cowboy would be on a journey like Odysseus, Achilles or Perseus.

What I expected going into the movie was a patriotic feeling after finishing the movie. Yes, I felt very proud of Kyle as well as those many others who have volunteered to sacrifice their lives for our nation. The movie doesn’t address the politics of the Iraq war in any major way and some people think this makes it pro-war.

Director Clint Eastwood responded to critics that the movie is all about pro-war propaganda,

“The biggest anti-war statement in any film can make is to show ‘the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did,'”

He went on.

“One of my favorite war movies that I’ve been involved with is ‘Letters from Iwo Jima,'” he continued. “And that was about family, about being taken away from life, being sent someplace. In World War II, everybody just sort of went home and got over it. Now there is some effort to help people through it. In Chris Kyle’s case no good deed went unpunished.”

Screenwriter Jason Hall shared,

“Chris was a man who believed in something and who therefore was useful to a government that needed him to go to war. It cost him his physical health, his mental health and almost cost him his family — but Chris probably would have paid the price over and over again if he’d been asked, which is both patriotic and totally tragic.”

The biggest surprise of the movie

It was a feeling deep inside that was difficult to describe at time. The movie kept tugging at me to be a better husband and father. You leave with a feeling of wanting to do the right thing and make more of your life at the core of who you are. You get the sense that our lives are progressing toward something meaningful.

Still of Bradley Cooper and Madeleine McGraw in American Sniper (2014)

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

Chris Kyle transforms in the story from being a boy to a rough cowboy, then to become a soldier, husband, father, and one wanting to help others.

To re-analyze the story structure of the movie; The surface story follows cowboy life, the soldier feeling the duty going to war, and every other fact of his life. The moral of the story is that war is glory and hell and causes incredible stress to family because of the psychological toll. The core of the story is Kyle’s journey to become a man.

It is fruitless to read another article about the movie until you have processed the core of the story. Leave the surface and moral to the pundits because they missed the big picture of what moves people.

American Sniper reminded me that often the surface themes of a movie are not enough. That is why I recommend re-reading books and re-watching movies. We can often miss the core of a story that ultimately will move us. That is why American Sniper is resonating.

The core of American Sniper is one that we are meant for a grand journey of life. It is not perfect but it is a true journey in our hearts.

 

 

From Boyhood to Killing Lions

September 25, 2014 — 6 Comments

There are times when I get discouraged after watching a slew of movies. Occasionally seem like the majority of filmmakers are playing it safe and opting for just trying to entertain us without any serious thought. Don’t get me wrong, I love entertaining movies but now and then we need to be challenged more seriously. This past month has been great for film-watching after seeing one of the most powerful representation of the Gospel I’ve ever seen, Calvary. Then came the movie, Boyhood

imagesI felt the need to go see the movie Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater because of the fact that he and others committed twelve years of his life to make the film. Linklater and his team gathered in Texas each year to film ten to fifteen minute short films capturing a year in a boy’s life. The boy, Mason, is portrayed to be an average American kid growing up and you follow him each year as he grows up. In key scenes, you see him interacting with friends, engaging with bullies, introduced to porn, you see a lot of his mother’s effort to support him and his sister, an in and out divorced father played by Ethan Hawke, and multiple step-fathers who are alcoholics. Mason along the way is navigates through relationships and a first love and constantly adjusting to change before him.

Any man would have to be sleeping not to see some part of themselves in Mason’s journey. I sure did.

Boyhood is a long and hard movie but a necessary one to endure and I encourage you to watch it with good friends. My friend Phil commented that he could not stop thinking about for the next day but couldn’t figure out why. It is rated R so I recommend watching it with caution and in context of a different worldview. I also wouldn’t expect any major spiritual revelations from it like your common Christian film. It is a movie that displays hope but also exposes the brokeness in a life without a father consistently being in the life. You can’t help but feel for his mother trying to raise Mason while making mistakes of her own trusting the family to drunk stepfathers along the way. We are reminded in the movie that we live in a fatherless nation.

Boyhood is a powerful and necessary movie to watch because it captures life as we remember it, in the most important scenes.

That is a big reason I started blogging on this theme four years ago. Often, we remember our lives in the most dramatic scenes; the saddest ones and the ones that have filled us with the most joy. We also do remember some random memories but beneath them is usually a deeper story God is telling us.

I recommend Boyhood for any man or woman wanting to understand what it is like growing up in today’s American culture. It won’t answer all of your questions but you will find yourself in Mason and learn to be more empathetic of what most boys face today.

A few weeks after I watched Boyhood, I was sent a copy of Killing Lions to read. It is written by John Eldredge (Wild at Heart) and his son Sam Eldredge.

I’ve always enjoyed Eldredge’s books and appreciate his heart as a writer because it always feels truest to my own yearnings. There are some in the extreme conservative theology crowd, even close friends, who take issue with some of his writing but I encourage you to keep an open mind to understand what he is trying to communicate. I’m learning in life that God speaks to us in many ways starting with his word, the Bible. He also gave us the holy spirit used through experience, books, movies, music, and fathers.

Your heart and your mind needs to be open.

UnknownIn a refreshing style, Killing Lions is a conversation about life between Sam (in his mid twenties) and his father, John. Like Mason in Boyhood, many men today have been raised without present fathers or grown up rejecting men above them. Men have a way of thinking they can figure life out by themselves (including me) and it is literally killing us.

I agree with Eldredge that our lives are broken into the stages of life. I am in my mid-thirties, married, have two daughters, and work in publishing. Prior to that I was in the stages of marriage without kids, single life, traveling, and school.

I am content at times but my wife and I often wonder when we will hit that next stage of life, responsibility, and more?

“just when you think you’ve arrived, you are called up again. As soon as we’ve begun to get a feel for the stage we are at, the next one comes knocking at the door. And though one stage really does prepare us for another, they are never quite the same and so once again we wonder if we have what it takes.”

We can go through life’s journey alone as an island or we can join forces and seek guidance. Eldredge’s encouragement in all of his books is pressing on us the need for other men to show us the way.

“Having a guru or father we can learn from, to guide us down the path of mastery, may be the only way to really know we are heading in the right direction.” – Sam Eldredge

I also have learned that machoism is not what God is calling us to. It is a humility to understand that God continues to work through us and takes kindness in our process. We never lose our boyhood in some ways, which explains a lot of how I feel in this process of going up; constantly learning and reflecting. Do you feel that way?

“Every man is part boy and part man. God requires the man to step up and play the man; but to the boy he offers comfort and healing. Be kind to the boy inside. It is the man God is calling to face down the next lion, but the boy he treated with genuine kindness.”

I love author Thomas Wolfe’s take on man,

“The deepest search in life, it seemed to me, the thing that in one way or another was central to all living was man’s search to find a father, not merely the lost father of his youth, but the image of a strength and wisdom external to his need and superior to his hunger, to which the belief and power of his own life could be united.”

We need other men to guide us. We need our heavenly father to guide all of us.

What do I do with this great wisdom? I am ready to do the following:

  • Ask God regularly to guide me in this journey. (Eldredge has some great prayers to help us start)
  • Be intentional in my time with my father to talk about life’s stages, today’s struggles and triumphs,
  • Re-engage with mentors of mine.
  • Seek to help those younger than me as a mentor.
  • Lovingly talk with my wife more about these things.
  • Teach my daughters about the journey they are on to understand God’s greatness through their femininity and how to deal with men in their lives.

I encourage you to read Killing Lions and watch Boyhood. Let me know what you think!

You can get a copy of the Killing Lions here from Ransomed Heart Ministries. They have some very helpful and impactful free videos to go with the book that I encourage you to also watch.
Boyhood should be in theaters for a few more weeks. Go watch it with a group of friends and share what you think.

 

The bar/confrontation scene from Good Will Hunting (1998) is one of my favorite movie scenes because it reveals something uncomfortable about us; we are all posers. In the scene, Will Hunting played by Matt Damon and his friends, who are from a poor part of South Boston decide one night to visit a Harvard bar. After Will’s friend played by Ben Affleck attempts to pick up some girls, he is confronted by an arrogant MIchael Bolton look-a-like Harvard graduate student. The graduate student begins to taunt Affleck’s character in front of the ladies by showing off his supposed knowledge of early American History. The scene is full of class-tension but underneath there is something deeper; a man’s authenticity is being challenged.

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Watch the scene to understand.

“But at least I won’t be unoriginal”

Our education system creates unoriginal posers who are incentivized to memorize facts and other people’s ideas. This happens to people of all ages, not just in school. I work in an office that tempts to suck the creative spirit out of me. There are days when I feel the desire to go to graduate school but then I realize that another degree or a graduate degree will only serve as an entry point to feeding my pride. As I evaluate my heart, I catch myself yearning just to see extra initials after my name on a business card or a resume. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with a degree or a graduate degree.

My point is this.

You are only as good as what you do with your education. 

We are all posers unless we use our education for the better and for each person that will be something personal and hopefully unique. The viewer learns later in the film that Will Hunting was a poser for not using the gift that God had given him. We are left at the end of the movie not knowing what he does with his education but that is probably the beauty of the story to embrace.

I apply this scene to my life because God has given me many dreams that I can sit on or pursue. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ words,

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

God gives us experience and the passions to act. By faith, he calls us to trust him in this journey. This is life’s great education. God gives us choice on what to do with this education and I am learning that I need to take seriously what he has given to me. I am awaken.

I am learning that it is not my degree or credentials that matter. He loves me no matter what and it is what I do with my education that matters. That is what makes the world stand up and clap.

I need to write.

I need to take the risks.

I need to engage fearlessly with my wife and my kids.

I need to leave the excuses behind and go forward with this education.

I may not have multiple PhDs. But my hope in life is that at least I won’t be unoriginal.

What are you learning about your education? What do you want to do with it?

I have lived in the South for almost nine years now. As a history student for life, I have tried to take advantage of my home in Nashville and learn more about the American Civil War. I also have tried to observe how people from the South talk about the Civil War. Although I don’t live in the deep South, the war seems to be a distant past to most people here. My only fear is that people will forget what happened and more importantly, what we can learn from it.

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My father was a member of Kappa Alpha, an “Old South” fraternity, which was inspired by the gentlemanly conduct of Robert E. Lee, when he served as President of Washington College (later became Washington & Lee). My father as well as my grandfather, who was also a Kappa Alpha member, always spoke fondly of Robert E. Lee. I never quite understood why because of Lee being a General whom led a rebellious army that ultimately lost. Lee did not seem to be a perfect person but why did his soldiers fight so bravely for him and why did they follow him when he agreed to surrender to Union forces? I learned why from a story in the book, April 1865, the author wrote a beautiful ending that captured the scene of Richmond, Virginia not long after the Civil War ended.

It was a warm Sunday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and an older man, one of the church’s many distinguished communicants, who had spent the last four years in war, was sitting in his customary pew. With his shoulders rounded, his middle thickened, his hair snow-white and beard gray, as usual, he attracted the attention of the rest of the church. But then so did another parishioner.

As the minister, Dr. Charles Minnergerode, was about to administer Holy Communion, a tall, well-dressed black man sitting at the western galley (which was reserved for Negroes) unexpectedly advanced to the communion table-unexpectedly because his this had never happened here before. Suddenly, the image of Richmond redux was conjured up-a flashback to prewar years. Usually whites received communion first, then blacks-a small but strictly adhered to ritual, repeated so often that to alter it was unthinkable. This one small act, then, was like a large frontier separating two worlds: the first being that of the antebellum South, the second being that of post-Civil War America. The congregation froze; those who had been ready to go forward and kneel at the altar rail remained fixed in their pews. Momentarily stunned, Minnergerode himself was clearly embarrassed. The horror-and surprise-of the congregation were no doubt largely visceral, but Minnergerode’s silent retreat was evident. It was one thing for the white South to endure defeat and poverty, or to accept the fact that slaves were now free; it was quite another for a black man to stride up to the front of the church as though an equal. And not just at any church, but here, at the sanctuary for Richmond’s elite, the wealthy, the well-bred, the high-cultured.

The black man slowly lowered his body, kneeling, while the rest of the congregation tensed in their pews. For his part, the minister stood, clearly uncomfortable and still dumbfounded. After what seemed to be an interminable amount of time-although it was probably only seconds-the white man arose (Lee), his gait erect, head up and eyes proud, and walked quietly up the aisle to the chancel rail. His face was a portrait of exhaustion, and he looked far older than most people had remembered from when the war had just begun. These days had been hard on him. Recently, in a rare, unguarded moment he had uncharacteristically blurted out, “I’m homeless-I have nothing on earth.”

Yet these Richmonders, like all of the South, still looked to him for a sense of purpose and guidance. No less so now as, with quiet dignity and self-possession, he knelt down to partake of the communion, along with the same rail with the black man.

Watching Robert E. Lee, the other communicants slowly followed in his path, going forward to the altar, and, with a mixture of reluctance and fear, hope and awkward expectation, into the future.

I now understand what a humble, yet magnanimous man looks like. Reconciliation that month of April 1865 emerged in the form of Robert E. Lee.

Who is really “The Man?”

September 6, 2011 — 2 Comments

I’m in my 30s now and like any honest man I never have stopped searching culture for signs of authentic manhood.  I like my fellow brothers today are bombarded with conflicting messages about what it means to be a man.  Despite this, I’m learning more about what it means to be a man since getting married and having kids.  Prior to both of those huge components of life, I felt more like a boy wandering in a jungle full of loud and confusing imagery telling me what it means to be a man. But these scenes of life I encounter tell me there is more beyond the curtain.

My wife and I recently watched (twice) Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), starring Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone.  I must say that I haven’t laughed so hard at a romantic comedy in years.  Yes, I’m a fan of the greats like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Say Anything, and Sweet Home Alabama.  Most guys do love those movies whether they admit or not.

In Crazy, Stupid, Love, what is so amusing is that a 20-something so-called man is giving a 40-something advice on picking up women.  And on top of that, he is giving him advice about what it takes to be a real man.  Ryan Gosling’s character is highly quotable in this role:

“I’m going to help you rediscover your manhood. Do you have any idea where you could have lost it?”

“The war between the sexes is over. We won the second women started doing pole dancing for exercise.”

“I don’t know whether to help you or euthanize you.”

“Be better than the Gap.” (commentating on Steve Carell’s style)

I laughed so hard at the last line in the theatre but then paused to looked down at my jeans and realized they were from Gap.  Good grief.

Despite the movie’s humor, it raises many questions about how men should act and view themselves.  Without ruining the movie, it probably left more questions about this issue instead of giving us answers.  Maybe that wasn’t the point of the movie.  In our lives we are confused by the extremes of man; the angry brute who only will watch and participate in Ultimate Fighting, the passive male asleep at the wheel of life not willing to engage in life, or metrosexual who worries more about himself, his looks, and won’t commit to any woman.   If we as men are not careful, we will get lost in the extremes of post-modern manhood.  What Crazy, Stupid, Love shows us is a glimpse of the transformation process to become a man.  I can’t judge either character too harshly because they are in this process.

I take comfort knowing that like them I don’t have it together.

So where do I go now?  I join Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling’s characters in this process.  All I know is that I’m not going to sit down and wait for things to happen.

I’m challenged to do (and not wait for) the following:

  • Pursue genuine friendships with men.
  • To seek mentors I admire who are older than me.
  • Study the great men of history.
  • Be humble about my successes and failures.
  • Share the wisdom I’ve acquired with those younger than me.
  • Pray like Christ, the best example of man.

What about you? 

What does it take to be a man in your point of view? 


I recently went to a local playground with my young girls.  I walked around casually following them as they explored the array of colorful pipes and swings.  When I saw my oldest daughter struggling and I offered to help, she shouted “I can do it all by myself.”  Meanwhile, she kept calling on me to help so I was oddly confused.  I’m definitely not God but I wonder often if this is how he feels when we do the same thing. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about how we as humans view the adventure and struggle of life.

I recently re-watched two amazing survival movies, 127 Hours (2010) and Into the Wild (2007).  I’ve always been curious by books and movies like these along with Call of the Wild, Alive, and Unbroken.  Perhaps my quest of manhood is revealed through their stories.  What amazed me most about these stories is that they are based on real events while not entirely dreamed up by Hollywood.

127 Hours features Aron Ralston a 20-something adventurist out west.  He became widely known in May 2003 when, while canyoneering in Utah, he was forced by an accident to amputate his right arm with a dull knife in order to free himself from a boulder.  James Franco did a terrific job playing Aron and the movie was anchored by director Danny Boyle with dream-like cinematography.  It is a difficult movie to watch due to the amputation scene but like many I’ve spoken to about it, it still captivates you.

Into the Wild features Chris McCandless played by Emile Hirsch, a recent college grad who packs up his car, leaves his family and heads west to the Alaskan wilderness with little food and equipment, hoping to live in solitude.  In only a few months he died of starvation.  While a disturbing movie, it is beautifully helmed by Sean Penn and the soundtrack by Eddie Vedder is inspiring.  I catch myself on weekends driving around town and opening up the windows to listen to Big Hard Sun.

The question after watching these two films is “Why” go on these adventures alone? 

Like these two characters, I love being out on my own whether it be hiking, traveling, or playing golf.  I haven’t been able to do that in a long time but I know the power it can have in restoring my soul, spending time with God, enjoying time to reflect.  I am reminded by a powerful line from John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, which stirs me.

“Men need to go on a safari of the heart to recover a life of freedom, passion, and adventure.”

It is good to go on that journey.

Here is the problem: Man is misguided by the world.  

The world says that he should be an island.  The world says…Go it alone.  Rely on yourself.  Don’t admit weakness.

In 127 Hours, Aron becomes stuck and recognizes that he must go to extreme measures to return to the people he loves.  He fights to get back to them.  In Into the Wild, Chris feels like regular society has left him so he must leave it.  People should not be part of this equation, only nature.  In the end of the story as he literally is lying on his deathbed, Chris reflects on the people he loved and who loved him. That is what mattered most in the end.

There is a reason that men ultimately love movies like The Fellowship of the Ring and Band of Brothers because the adventure is about being together.  It is the similar with women and movies they love focusing on deep and enduring friendships.

It is important to go on that “safari of the heart”.  

But that safari is meaningless without sharing the spirit of it with people and God that inspires it.