Learning how to lean
Quaker leaders in previous generations wrote "journals" as personal
accounts of their lives and ministry. Often these journals begin with
accounts of conversion experiences (usually referred to as "convincement"
among Friends) or of early struggles to discover and hear God's calling
inviting them into deeper levels of faithfulness & work for the Lord.
Often these struggles involved a great deal of spiritual turmoil.
me, being a Friend takes an enormous leap of faith, a willingness to let go of
one's own fears and agendas and to lean utterly on God. There are many barriers to making this
kind of whole-hearted commitment to live one's life faithfully in God. Some struggle with a deep sense of
unworthiness. Others are trapped
in addictions. Still others feel
arrogant and self-sufficient in their own powers and capacity to "make it" on
spiritual challenges for men.
I find it fascinating that even though men have tended to dominate the
leadership of most faith communities over the centuries, the members of many
churches have been disproportionately female. This is no accident. It is
my experience that men's upbringing provides significant barriers to a close
relationship with God. Modern middle and upper class white men in the
U.S. are taught to be strong, independent, intellectually sharp, "in
charge", and to avoid vulnerability and emotionality. This seems to
me to be in direct contradiction to the call to lean on God and turn over one's
life to the One at the heart of all. I like to refer to this
counter-intuitive imperative for men as "holy dependency".
late Christian psychiatrist, Jerry May,
under whom I studied at the Shalem
Institute for Spiritual Formation, described this process best in his book,
and Spirit. The book describes in detail two sharply contrasting
ways of living and relating to God that May labels "willingness"
versus "willfulness". As a white male heterosexual upper middle
class male who was the son and grandson of highly competent and overly 'in
charge" New Englanders, I have had a life-long challenge trying to learn
the path of holy dependency and open-hearted willingness in relationship to
was invited in 2005 to give a plenary lecture at FGC Annual Gathering in
Amherst MA. The topic I chose was Throwing Open the Doors to My Heart.
wrote a paper for the two year "spiritual directors" training program
I took at the Shalem Institute on men's struggles to be vulnerable. This
paper was later published in the Journal of Christian Healing as "Healing
the Male Heart: The Beatitudes as Radical Model for Masculinity".
the Male Spirit.pdf
dealt with this topic in more detail at a talk I gave at Ohio Yearly Meeting sessions held
in Barnesville in 2009. Although the main topic of the talk was
"Experiencing God's Love through Health Changes", I felt called to
speak as well about the barriers I have felt as a man to a life of willingness
and inward trust towards God.
I have been involved in "men's work" since 1969. I was part of
a Movement for New Society
collective called Men Against Patriarchy in the 1970's. We led antisexism
workshops for men in the Philadelphia area. As part of this group I
co-authored with George Lakey and others a manifesto entitled "Understanding
and Fighting Sexism: A Call to Men", which was later reprinted in a
larger collection called "Off Our Backs & Onto Our Own Two Feet".
co-led the annual gathering of Quakers in
Pastoral Care & Counseling (QPCC) in 2001 with Jesse Paledofsky, Worth
Hartman & Ben Tousley on the subject of "Ministering to the Male