An Invitation to Discuss Malestrom by Carolyn Custis James
Either serendipity or providence. Just a few weeks ago I was on a panel discussing Christ and Gender with Ben Witherington and Carolyn Custis James at the MissioAlliance gathering in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s an explosive issue; whatever a person says will inevitably spark some strong disagreement, if not harsh criticism, from someone else. But we were all civil to each other and found common ground and raised a lot of questions. During that event I discovered the book Malestrom by my co-panelist James. (I’m using that for her last name knowing it might be “Custis James,” because the Library of Congress lists the author as “James, Carolyn Custis.” I am open to correction.)
Then, recently a couple of commenters here, who know about my penchant for discussing gender issues, especially contemporary society’s favoritism to females in certain spheres (e.g., health, education), mentioned that I should read Malestrom. I made a mental note to do just that. My mental notes don’t always pan out, though, as among them is a long list of books I ought to read! Then, today, I received a complimentary copy of Malestrom from the publisher with a note suggesting I might want to do more than just read it.
I will begin reading it and commenting on it here. I don’t know how many blog posts I’ll dedicate to it and I must warn ahead of time that these will not just be ordinary “book reviews.” I will probably use some of the book to make my own views known—even if they are not directly related to views expressed in the book.
For your information, Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World is published by Zondervan (2015) and comes highly recommended by: Rachel Held Evans, Darrell Bock, Peter Enns, David Fitch, Abraham George, and many others—a very diverse group of mostly evangelical Christians. I take it from what little I know of her that James is some kind of evangelical. She is an adjunct professor at Biblical Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.
Before I even begin reading the book I have some confessions to make. Everyone knows (I hope) that nobody approaches a book without any presuppositions or expectations. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about which I had absolutely no preconceptions—including hesitations, concerns, fears, hopes, excitement, anticipation, etc. So I’m going to reveal here and now some of my preconceptions and then we will see together whether they are confirmed or disconfirmed.
First, just like most educated and gender-sensitive females looking at a book about “womanhood” written by a man, I wince slightly at the very thought of a book about manhood written by a woman. Just like many women approaching a male-authored book about womanhood, I wonder what a woman really knows about manhood. I’m just being frank and honest. Being a man is something only a man can fully understand—I think. And even many men don’t understand it. I’m not questioning a woman’s right to write about manhood; I’m just wondering if a woman writing about manhood is aware that, just like womanhood, there are things about being a man (and here I really mean “male”) only a man can understand or at least feel.
Second, I fear running into the old attitudes that have become anathema to me—about the “decline of men” and “the men problem.” They are things like “Man up!” and “Boys will be boys” and “Men would be fine if they were more like women.” I think there really is something to the idea of the “damaged male psyche” in postmodern American society. It’s especially evident in teen boys and post-teen young men. They don’t know their value or place in society. And unlike females who struggle and face challenges, they get very little sympathy. There are few, very few, non—profit organizations dedicated to helping boys or young men. There are tons of them dedicated to helping girls and women.
But, I don’t really expect to read those ideas or attitudes in this book because I was impressed with James when we met and served together on that panel in Virginia. And the promotional blurbs for the book make it sound sympathetic to men. Not that I think all men deserve sympathy. Not at all. I have no sympathy for the swaggerers, abusers, machismo-obsessed men or those who think they deserve special privileges just for being male. But there are females who get no sympathy from me, either. I’ve taught with some of them in the past (not currently). They are so engrossed with female victimhood they cannot hear one good thing or think one positive thought about males—except perhaps their own husbands, brothers and sons.
All I can say at this point about Malestrom is that I’m intrigued and a bit cautious. Let’s see how it goes….