November 1, 2012

Them’s Fightin’ Words!

Last night I had dinner with our Providence Church Midland leaders at the Hog’s Breath Cafe. Not my scene at all actually. No soup and no guacamole.  Just right for Midland though, and the lads definitely wanted a steak.

(Here he is in all his Hoggy glory)

One of the crew was, before he was converted, a real brawler (not like those preened, hair-gelled, shaven un-tatted nancy boys in the pic above – Ed), well known to the police in his time and never having lost a fight “one-on-one”.  The discussion came up about Christian manliness in light of the “Angry Young Men” guest blog post from Damon. It made for an interesting conversation.

It has become fashionable in the past decade for sections of Christianity in the Reformed Tradition to have taken on a “manliness” that is, in part, a reaction to the perception that Christianity has been feminized.  Now this is not across Reformed theology in general, but, it seems to me, primarily within those who came to Reformed Theology through Driscoll, as opposed to those who came to Driscoll through Reformed Theology (I would be in this latter category).    Damon’s post helpfully asked the question, what does Jesus have to offer angry young (non-Christian) men, especially when Christianity is so often seen as a feminized sub-culture, and his post offered, what I think, was a wise and  subversive answer. Debating the rights and wrongs of whether Christian culture actually is a feminized – and feminizing – culture, is a moot point.  My observation from being out on the streets door-knocking in Midland is that very few of the types of blokey blokes I meet are in church.  They may not be the essence of manliness in the biblical sense of the word, but they would sure stick out like a sore thumb if they turned up at almost any church (and especially if they had to sing some of the songs we sing – Ed). Nathan has written an interesting response here to Damon’s post.

Leaving that aside, perhaps we should ask the blokey blokes just what hurdles they have to jump to make the transition to the Christian culture, rather than assuming what they are. Hence the conversation with my leader mate last night was enlightening. Because, let’s face it, Driscoll is the son of a working class blokey bloke, not a working class blokey bloke himself.  He is middle class, lives in a middle class suburb (I know, I have been to his house), and has a tertiary education.  In other words he is like me – the first generation of his family to go to university and therefore not be a tradesman. Why is this an important distinction?  Because blokes like Driscoll – and their followers – can create a parody of blokeyness that apes the real thing, without ever feeling the strong attachment to the reality: a bit like Perth’s London Court, a spruced up Elizabethan-lite faux example of the reality of London in the 16th century. And let’s face it – nonChristians can smell it when you do that.

It is still the truth that in the West the cultural leap for the middle class to take to enter church is pretty much non-existent insofar as “tone” is concerned, when compared to the culture leap people like my leader friend had to make.  Sure, the gospel changes everything, but many evangelicals are at pains to demonstrate to their non-Christian friends that they are not actually that much different to them in terms of appearance, music and food likes, sporting and cultural interests – oh and books that they read on their Kindles.  All good things – and all the stuff I am as well!

So what did my leader bloke feel when he became a Christian? Mixed emotions!  The joy of salvation with the sorrow of leaving behind the music he loved and the earthiness he associated with his mates.  The trade off with Christian “sounds like” bands didn’t do it for him.  And that was the tip of the iceberg. He looked around and didn’t see anyone like himself, or who was interested in his pursuits of darts, snooker and deep-sea fishing as anything more than a one-off event. Darts for a giggle? Sure.  But darts every Monday night on a team that required you to turn up and throw an average 100 per hand? You’re on your own there! He loved Jesus enough to give it all up to follow Him, but wondered why he had to, or even if he did have to.  Where were the people like him?  The answer is pretty clear isn’t it – generally not in church.

The next best thing therefore, was a Christian imitation of that culture, or so he initially believed.  He started attending a Christian Men’s Shed, but made the astute observation that even it is light years away culturally from where his mates are at.  And besides, that’s not church is it? That’s a worthwhile event, yet without the practices, disciplines and community that makes up church. And further to this, Christian mens’ groups doing activities that blokey blokes do, is kinda like an interactive tourism experience in the Third World; it’s good while it lasts, but the gloss would wear off if it were your everyday life!

This is not simply an abstract observation for me – it is a fundamental concern as we seek to plant a church in Midland.  Our hope is that it does not simply become a middle-class enclave in what is one of the strongest working-class areas in the whole of Perth. The shire that Midland is the centre of has the lowest percentage of uni-educated workers and the highest percentage of trades-certified workers in all of Perth. If we end up not being representative of the area we will, at a fundamental level, have failed.

So what did my blokey mate require of me?  Firstly, “be yourself”.  He doesn’t want me to come to darts and try, limply, to ape him culturally. He wants me to pray for him as he enters that culture, that God will use him to speak to these blokes who instinctively know he is from their stock.  Secondly, he wants good training in how to be a manly Christian in the face of a culture than only knows manliness one way.  He wants to be taught and modelled stuff like “self-control, steadfastness, brotherly affection and love” (c.f 2Peter 1), because those things are lacking in the brawling, braggardly, misogynist (yes – it actually does occur) world that he grew up with.  And he wants a good “third place” – somewhere that is both familiar to his mates, yet able to mix the Christian tribe with the non-Christian one.  And lastly, he wants to be able to show his mates that he has found something worth dying for, as opposed to something worth killing for.

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Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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