Sunday, April 29: Becoming and Unbecoming Men

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION

PRELUDE: “Metamorphosis” (by Phillip Glass)

WELCOMING WORDS: Garin B.

CALL TO WORSHIP

INTROIT: Ubi Caritas/In the Tender Heart” (by Laura Sandage/Denis Donnelly/Jacques Berthier)

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Lily R.

OPENING HYMN: “There Is More Love” (Georgia Sea Islands) ( * )

OUR COVENANT:

Love is the doctrine of this church,

The quest for truth is its sacrament,

And service is its prayer.

To dwell together in peace,

To seek knowledge in freedom,

To serve humankind in fellowship,

To the end that all souls

Shall grow into harmony with the Divine.

This is our great covenant,

One with another, and with our God.

SONG OF ASPIRATION:

From all that dwell below the skies,

Let songs of hope and faith arise,

Let peace, good-will on earth be sung,

Through every land, by every tongue.

Amen.

CHILDREN’S TIME

SINGING CHILDREN TO THEIR CLASSES:

Go now in peace, go now in peace;

may the love of God surround you,

everywhere,

everywhere

you may go.

CANDLES OF JOY AND SORROW

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

MUSICAL MEDITATION

DIVERSITY TOPIC: GENDER AND ORIENTATION:

Why It Matters To Me (by Jim T.)

First, I’d like to acknowledge and thank my wife, Sandy, who helped me put this together. While I was an EMT, I did a lot of lifting of disabled people. I also was eating a lot of fast food, and I never watched what I was eating, so diabetes took over. I was in denial about possibly being sick, but my doctor wanted me on insulin because my numbers were so high. I stated “no, I will make the meds work, being I am in control after all.”

Then I joined a bicycle club and started biking everywhere. I lost weight and now I take one metaformin a day and I ride an E-bike. So when I saw the doctor he stated to me that my numbers had lowered drastically and he was very surprised and happy.

Now I look at disabled people with a different state of mind. So I decided that, being a man who likes to help people, I can do a lot to help. It’s a rewarding feeling and I am doing the manly thing. I am now retired because of my disabilities and am on 3 Disability Committees: SLIC, SALEM independent Living Council, and AACT Board for the MBTA.

My wife relies on me because she has a few problems with her health, and she tells me all the time that I am the best. She would be lost without me. I am a man that stands by my wife through all her problems, whereas a lot of men desert their wives, especially if they have breast cancer. We have been together for 29 years and I will always support her.

I am also a man of my word. If I say I will do something, like refinish tables for the church and re-glue the stools, I will do it to the best job I can. I like to be reliable and willing to help when needed.

Why It Matters To Me (by Muncie M.)

Hello, my name is Muncie, outwardly I identify as male and my pronoun preferences are he/him/his. Inwardly, however, since childhood, I have had an awareness of both the masculine and the feminine within, which, at the time, took the form of fantasies of being able to change physically from one sex to the other.

In my early teens my mother told me a story about my birth. She said that for a while she thought that she may have given birth to twins because one nurse came in and said, “You have a beautiful baby boy” and shortly after, another nurse came in and said, “You have a beautiful baby girl”. On hearing this, I wondered if, perhaps, I had had an ability that was lost as I grew up, learning to be a boy.

At various times while growing up the theme of ambiguous gender has appeared. In 7th grade our biology teacher told the class about intersexual people who were identified physically at birth as one sex, but grew up to be the opposite gender. I don’t think this was part of the standard curriculum. In Gym there was my classmate who, during attendance taking, when my name was called, after I said “here”, he would echo “her”. This seemed odd to me because he was shorter, slighter of build and prettier than me. I didn’t know much about the establishment of hierarchical relationships in male circles or the dynamics of bullying at that time.

Then there was the college counsellor who went over the results of my Strong Vocational Interest Index with me my freshman year at Syracuse. The index is arrived at by asking about a hundred questions like, “Would you rather read a book, or solve a puzzle?”, or, “Would you rather play baseball or go to a museum?”

The index compares one’s answers to the answers of many people, male and female, in various occupations and comes up with a series of scores on about 25 or so scales.

I correlated highly with mathematician, various engineers, life scientists, and my lowest score was for “banker”, I think it was “-3”. I should not be the treasurer of any organization. As we went down the page the counselor started getting nervous. On the male/female scale I was smack in the middle. He was very flustered and awkwardly tried to explain what it didn’t mean, but for me, it was no big deal. While to a certain degree it seemed natural and comfortable to be male on the outside and a mix of masculine and feminine on the inside, there were aspects of life that were beyond my experience. I was focused on math, science and the world of thought. I had no romantic or sexual involvements and wondered if there was something missing in me.

Several weeks before graduating I had a life altering experience. I felt embraced by a sea of love and that I had the capacity to love both men and women. I know that I have used these words repeatedly to describe my experience; some of you have heard it several times. If I were a poet, perhaps I could do it more justice, but for me it was and still is an experience beyond words, beyond my ken. From that moment I mark the beginning of my adult life and of my quest to live on a path with heart.

For the next decade and a half, I lived mostly as “gay identified”, and later as “bisexual”. This change in labels was not due to a change in self-awareness, but rather marked the evolution of the gay community from regarding bisexuals as gay men not wanting to come fully out of the closet to equal members of the LGBTQ+ community .

Mostly during this period I worked at universities which were fairly liberal, open and accepting. I feel fortunate that I never had to play “Monday morning pronouns”. For those that don’t know “Monday morning pronouns”, that is when, on returning to work Monday morning, a gay man or lesbian would switch the pronouns of the person they spent the weekend with so that he or she could talk about their romantic relationships in the work environment without having to “come out” and face potentially hostile reactions.

During this period I also experienced homophobia from friends, family, complete strangers and from within myself. It is an odd feeling to feel oneself as “other”, but ultimately that too can be an awakening experience.

One of the most heart-breaking experiences of homophobia that I have witnessed was when one of my sons was in Pre-K at the age of four. He went up to a friend, another boy, spread his arms wide and happily said, “I love you!” His friend, with balled fists, put his arms tight at his side, shaking, red in the face with anger, he leaned forward and shouted at Duncan, “Don’t you know you are not supposed to say that to other boys!”

This is something that I and my friends learned as boys, I have no doubt that it is something my father and his friends learned growing up and it is something that many boys continue to learn today. I am hopeful for the future, but social progress is slow.

The ability for one man to say to another, “I love you”, not in a sexual way, or a romantic way, or, dare I say it, a “bromantic” way; yet still in a sincere and intimate way, to say, “I love you”, is a beautiful and powerful thing. And for those words to be heard by another man, accepted and taken to heart, without fear or shame, is more beautiful and powerful still. I believe the world would be much better off if such a thing, if not commonplace, was deemed possible and worthy.

This is my vision, and why I go to events like our MUUC Men’s Retreat and the Massachusetts Men’s Gathering. These are the way stations on the path to that vision. I find them to be nurturing and healing. They are safe places to explore and grow one’s spirit as a man and as a human being. Further, they are places to lend a hand to others doing the same

OFFERTORY: “Song Without Words” (by Felix Mendelssohn)

READING: “Give Us The Spirit Of The Child” (# 664)

ANTHEM: “I Shall Not Walk Alone” (by Ben Harper) ( * )

READING: Brief Excerpts

“The worlds definitions are one thing and the life one actually lives is quite another. One cannot allow oneself, nor can one’s family, friends, or lovers – to say nothing of one’s children- to live according to the worlds definitions: one must find a way, perpetually, to be stronger and better than that.”

(James Baldwin)

“This bridge will only take you halfway there

To those mysterious lands you long to see:

Through gypsy camps and swirling Arab fairs

And moonlit woods where unicorns run free.

So come and walk awhile with me and share

The twisting trails and wondrous worlds I’ve known.

But this bridge will only take you halfway there

The last few steps you’ll have to take alone.

(“The Bridge”, by Shel Silverstein)

HYMN: “Love Makes A Bridge” (# 325)

SERMON:

Becoming and Unbecoming Men

Munice M. (copyright)

For those of us who are men, how do we look at the news of the past year? This has been a watershed year with the #MeToo movement holding powerful men accountable for their sexual harassment and abuse. We’ve also had a large number of mass shootings – Las Vegas, Florida, atrocities – carried out by men. Even across college campuses we hear the news about fraternities making videos of racist behavior or ‘swearing to hate forever’ various minority groups. Also from campuses we hear of tragic and avoidable deaths due to hazing.

This week after reading about a man, who killed 10 people by running them over with a van, I learned the term “incel”, which stands for “involuntarily celibate” a group whose members define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner. Incels are almost exclusively male and, according to Wikipedia, their forums are characterized by resentment, misogyny and the endorsement of violence against women and more sexually successful men.

As a man, I am horrified and disheartened by these stories. While I condemn these activities, after being introduced to Debbie Irving’s “Waking Up White”, I have to question if these time also need a parallel “Waking Up Male”. In her book, Ms Irving, details her own experience of becoming aware of white privilege and it’s role in race relations. As men, it is probably well past time to acknowledge the role of male privilege and its role in our culture.

In all this bleakness, I have to give a shout out to Jim T. (church member) and his testimonial today that reminds us that many men come contribute positively to our communities through service and dedication to social justice.

This leads us to the question of how do we become men? How does society define a man and how can we raise our children to be aware of the pitfalls of male power, privilege and their abuse and successfully navigate to a masculinity that is healthy and inclusive?

How does a child become a man?

What are the markers in the paths to becoming men? I remember when I shifted from greeting my father with a hug to greeting him with a handshake. I remember when, in the evening, I no longer climbed in his lap to muss up his hair or to rub my cheek against his, feeling his days growth of rough stubble.

Is becoming a man simply a process of a boy growing older?

I know some men who seem to live by the maxim, “Youth is fleeting, but immaturity can last forever.

In the New Testament, from 1 Corinthians 13:11 we read “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.” If becoming a man is not just about getting older, what does it mean to “be a man”?

Going back to the Old Testament, we find that men are the ones who can own “chattel”. Chattel is defined as movable property, at the time this included servants, wives and children. Much of this perspective has been part of Western culture’s common-law up into the 1800’s.

How does this notion of ownership and property inform our understanding of being a man today?

Ex-NFL quarterback and feminist activist Don McPherson has observed, “Masculinity is a performance. It’s an act. We don’t raise boys to be men. We raise boys ‘to not be’ women or gay men. We don’t affirm what a loving man is.”

I would add that we raise boys to not be children and to not be servants. While our society no longer views it acceptable that people should be property, we still raise our boys ‘not to be’ like those who in the past would be owned. Think of the recent idiom “Oh, he totally owned you!”

This is a lot of things for men to ‘not be’. If we were to list the traits of women, children and people who serve, what are the things that boys must sacrifice in order to become men?

For the feminine, there is nurturance, comfort and empathy for starters. Childhood comes with curiosity, wonder and vulnerability. Servitude calls to mind surrender which is associated with spiritual growth, in order to listen to others we need to make space for others to speak.

In becoming men we must find a way to not enter into a Faustian bargain, giving up our hearts and souls in exchange for power and privilege or even the expectation of power and privilege.

While I believe that most men are good, ethical and upstanding, I find it likely that most men have traded some portion of soul for some portion of privilege. At our Men’s Retreat in the past, we have brought up the finding that men entering middle age have a lack of close friendships and suffer shorter lives for that lack. My experience with discovering my own homophobia has also informed my understanding of male privilege and its costs.

What happens when we discover that the man we have become has come at the cost of intimacy, curiosity and wholeness? How do we un-become that man and navigate to a more open, more nurturing and inclusive masculinity?

I think, for many of us, we are already on that journey, though we may only be moderately aware of what the journey entails. The path has been traveled by others: for the racial justices movement it has been called “telling it like it is”, for the feminist movement it is “consciousness raising”.

The men’s movement has been developing in fits and starts. There are branches, like the incel, and the men’s right’s movement, that see the rise of feminism as the victimization of men and turns towards misogyny. But there are also many men’s groups that ally with feminism and encourage men to tell our stories and own our experience, to ask of ourselves the hard questions. I encourage men to seek out these groups and grow toward that vision that mentioned in my earlier testimony. To find and create safe places to explore and grow one’s spirit as a man and as a human being and to lend a hand to others doing the same.

CLOSING HYMN: “Immortal Love” (# 10)

EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE (read by the congregation):

We extinguish the flame but not the light of truth,

the warmth of community,

or the fire of commitment.

These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.

BENEDICTION

CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE:

May the long time sun shine upon you,

all love surround you,

and the pure light within you

guide you all the way home.

POSTLUDE: “Metamorphosis Four” Phillip Glass

( * ) Indicates a person of color