One of the old maps said life means to 'get saved,' whatever that is. 'Believe in Jesus' and you will be saved. Belief often meant assent to a set of propositions.
In Australia men are thin on the ground in church. One reason for this is that the old maps fail badly at this point. Assenting to a set of propositions does not gives "Capital L" Life. In fact, part of that package means sitting through boring church, which is often a life sapping experience. So women come to church, and men stay away. Women, it seems, find life and men don't. Why is this?
In the generation before mine, women stayed at home. Men were the bread winners. In our country towns and suburbs, church activities were the social and friendship activities for many women. Church, and belief, and friendship were inextricably intertwined.
Men never went to these functions. They were at work. Church for them meant evening meetings for church business, and Sunday worship-- often boring. So why go? Why believe six impossible things before breakfast so you could listen to boring sermons? For many men, none of the unlikely, far-fetched and religious stuff was linked to the enlivening experience of friendship.
There are, of course, other factors in Australia. The popular religious maps were often inadequate in the face of the atrocity of war. Australian men by nature react against the authority of traditional clergy styles.
But primarily, I believe, there was little friendship in church for men.
I would suggest that friendship is a major ingredient in Salvation. On the old maps, or the popular ones I grew up on, Salvation meant if you assented to the right beliefs you went to heaven. (Otherwise known as 'pie in the sky when you die.') More mature maps saw that belief meant a better life now. Oddly though, a popular phrase to express this in some churches was "Meat on your plate while you wait." We can see the emphasis of this kind of spirituality is still that life doesn't really start until the earthly map ends.
Better theological maps suggest that life is NOW. The centre of life is here, now, present, and earthly. We cannot escape from this reality through a hope that we will be removed from it. We may hope for a better reality, and work for it, but it is for a 'this earth reality.'
But let's return to the metaphor of this series of articles. In this metaphor the old maps do not work anymore, and we have decided to draw our own mudmap as we feel our way forward.
So I ask myself... where have I felt most alive? When does life seem most genuine or real? When am I not alienated from being? The answer is when I am captivated by some aspect of the reality around me. It might be deep in the guts of a computer program's subroutine, or the engine of my motor bike. We men find a particular contact with Ultimate Reality through Its mechanics. The more sensitive of us find this has its limits-- the study of the building blocks of reality, whether in material things like a motor, or in the logic of an algorithm, can become an escape from deeper reality.
The deepest captivation by reality for me, is in friends. The friendship of teenage bush walking trips, and of long drives across the continent remains strong in my memory. Commuting frustrations fade beside the talking of deep things with a friend. The babble of the pub is walled out by the bubble of our own friendship at the bar.
There is a nasty two edged knife in all of this. I am most alive, and most deeply involved in friendship with my wife. She is my friend. I have few other friends... none remotely as intimate.
I think this is quite common for Australian men who seek more in life than "comfort for their gut and what hangs under it" as one man put it. It's also unhealthy.
Let's explore this. We long for the intimacy of friendship. We long for someone we can trust and with whom we can be open. Some one who will know our faults and fears, and yet still like us! And we long for that peculiar honour of knowing another's secret fears-- not for gossip or voyeurism, and not because they want us to do something. Simply because they honour us with trust. They are our friend.
The thing is, men don't usually have real friends. We have 'mates' and acquaintances and members of the team. But not friends in the real sense of the word. Intimacy-- the mark of friendship-- is usually excluded from our relationships.
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