He always smiles when he comments on your Facebook posts.
Another one of those long lists of things you should do to be human is making its way around facebook and twitter. This one is called 99 Steps Towards Manhood. As a rule, of course, I object to these enormous catalogs of extra-biblical laws that are supposed to fix you up but never do. I especially hate them when they’re intended for women—like those well-meaning people who try to rework Proverbs 31 into such a trial, thereby missing the whole point of that text and ruining the lives of all women everywhere. On the other hand, for the State of New York, I have to submit a list of Practical Arts that each child will work on through Junior High. I’m allowed to make up this list myself, which meant that I went and borrowed a friend’s, because I had no idea where even to start. It has things like Roast Vegetables, Saw Wood, Babysit, Tie a Tie, Work in a Soup Kitchen, Fold and Put Away Laundry, Plan and Cook a Meal from Start to Finish, and a hundred other items that have escaped me for now. The whole point is that when a child leaves my house, he will be able to cope with ordinary life, and so also with the girls, because I’m not sexist. They, all of them, can’t only study Latin, they also have to face down the laundry. The usefulness of the list, however, is not only peculiar to the child, it is differently inflected for boys and girls. My girls are naturally inclined to grow up. They like order and beauty. My boys, on the other hand, are inclined to be lazy. I love the breezy good-natured tone and the practical sense of this list—it strikes right at the soul of a young man’s inclinations. I’ll just pull out seven, shall I? Because it’s Friday. But also, I seriously love all of them except for the coffee one. That’s the only one I could throw away.
One—Sing in Church
Most men are, by nature, shy. They don’t really want to draw unnecessary attention to themselves. They are retiring and happy to leave church as soon as it is over. This is a gross generalization, of course. But if you count up the number of men sitting in their cars texting their wives to stop talking and come out, it is a vast deal more than the number of women so occupied. The whole business of going to church and having to be around a lot of other people is exhausting for a lot of men. Then you are demanded to sing. And that’s just embarrassing, especially if the music is hard and bad. I think most women are happy to be a little bit embarrassed if it will make them fit in. But men just sit in judgment, arms folded in horror. Of course, I’m not really from America so I may be describing the men from some other culture, where shy reticence is the expectation. On the other hand, I do know a lot of men in my church, and I feel pretty confident about this vast, sweeping observation.
It is, therefore, an act of courage for a man who is uncomfortable with his singing voice, and doesn’t want to draw attention to himself, to sing in church. And yet, when he does, he is truly a man. He is the proper man, praising God for all to see, blazoning a trail upon which other uncomfortable people—men and women—may take their soul crushed selves in their hands and deliver themselves up to God. It is for this reason that I am locked in combat with my teenage boy about his willingness to sing in church. He can play the piano, though he doesn’t want to, but he won’t sing, because his voice has changed, and he is mortified. Yet he must sing. He was created by God to sing. So help me, he will learn to sing in church because his father does, so that even though his insecurity measures itself out note by note, yet for the sake of others, he lays down his life for those he loves by singing in church.
Two—Don’t Watch Pornography
It is easy to say, of course. Just don’t do it. Except that it is the single thing you are offered every moment of the day by a culture that wants your soul and your money. To say no to pornography is the singular death of the modern man. He is denying himself, taking up his cross, and following his Lord. The temptations to turn away from the true light for the false shiny one–to click, to look, to click again–are epic. They are apocalyptic. They are, in human terms, unendurable. And he is a mortal, a man who will die anyway. How can he not watch pornography? Only by the grace of God. And so we find that at heart, the man is a sinner in need of a savior. If he is going to turn away from his flesh and towards the beauty of Christ, he needs the prayers of the whole church, the encouragement, the good humor of his community, the patience of those who love him to fight against his inclinations. And when he looks away from the screen and into the eyes of a person, a woman, who then sees him sing in church? Be still my heart.
Three—Don’t Look At Your Phone
Of course women shouldn’t look at their phones either, and for most of the same reasons. Mothers should stop with the scrolling and peer into the eyes of their children. Friends should glance up from the bright screen and smile at each other. Children should have the wretched thing gently pried from their grimy mitts and be sent out to play. But when a man looks up from his phone! It is the best of miracles. Consider the joy and hope for his whole familial circle. Other men may walk up to him, the door open to comradery and relationship. His wife may catch his eye, his mute sadness at being in another wretched social situation communicated in a single, heart-rending glance. She sees his phone there, in his hand, knows his deepest longing, and extricates herself from all her friends to lead him forth from the place of his pain, and prop him up in front of the television with some restoring drink in his hand. He looked up from his phone, at her, and it was literally the best.
Four—Have Rigorous Daily Exercise
I am going to be so insensitive as to say, though the internet slay me, that men ought to cultivate physical strength for the protection and help of women. My body endures a lot—my strength is spent till it is nothing for the lives and comfort of my children. I stoop and bend, I wash and fold, I give life. Should I then also defend myself against mine enemies? Should I be the first to rise up at the sound of an intruder? Or should those stronger and quicker than me leap up to my defense? Yes, they should. All the while lecturing me about sense and self-defense. The two are not mutually exclusive. However, there is nothing so charming as the restful kindness of a man who watches what he eats, takes regular exercise, and plans to be around as long as he can for the care and protection of those he loves.
In a world saturated with pornography, where the desires of the flesh are always at war with the life of the spirit, men are particularly tempted to lie. Yet they should not, they should conquer themselves. They should tell the truth however ugly, however ruinous, and seek the mercy of their savior.
Six—Stop With The Video Games
Yes, they should. They should put them away and venture forth into the great unknown. It will certainly kill them to contemplate this. They are like Prince Rilian, their strength and vitality sapped by an alien lying promise that if they conquer in a virtual world, they will have amounted to something. Only when the box is turned off, however suddenly, and they look up into the bright shocking light of reality is there hope for them to grow into men.
Seven—Walk Toward People
All of the list can be wrapped up in this one. This is the singular most charming reason I fell for Matt, and continue to adore him, however much he may exasperate me. Though a boy fail at the whole list, and yet keeps this one point, he will be a man. You can know a man if, when you walk into a room, he involuntarily inclines himself towards you, his body propelled all of a sudden. He looks up from his phone and comes toward you. You stand, fixed, and he walks to wherever you are. Indeed, his whole self turns towards whoever it is who has his attention. He moves forward, in time and space, towards the other. He does not sit back, languid, hoping that others will discover his desires, will cater to him, will try to please him. No, he gets up and walks. When you have seen a male person walk towards someone, swiftly, purposefully, kindly, you have seen a man.
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