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A POEM: “Honor Your Grandfather”

November 19, 2012 Leave a comment

I have decided to begin sharing some of my poetry. Mondays seem a good time to do that, a good way to start the week. If you enjoy these I’d love to read your comments!

The following, “Honor Your Grandfather” I subtitled: ‘A remembrance of “A Day for Men” with Robert Bly and Michael Meade at the Lisner auditorium, Washington, DC’. I had attended this day, a lot of years ago now, in the middle years of the men’s movement known as the “Mytho-Poetic Men’s Movement.” I was very moved and influenced by this day for men. And I did then and still do honor my grandfather. As we approach Thanksgiving here in the US I particularly honor all of my ancestors whose product I remain.

The clear day was filled
With heightened expectations—
“A Day for Men.”

At the entrance we were guided
Through a side door leading to steps
Descending into the womb of the theater.

Winding through narrow passages
Voices whispered “Remember your Grandfather.”
“Remember the ancestors,” “Honor your Father.”

A faint rumble echoed
At the Edge of perception—it began
To resolve into rhythm.

Dark warmth held us, then
Suddenly we were birthed
Onto a stage amongst fifty men.

Drumming! Dancing! We were urged on—
Asked to dance across the stage,
To perform for the sea of faces looking back.

The short trip was filled
With tension—light, sound, motion
Blending in splendid cacophony.

Off stage, at our seats, we stood
Dancing in place, pounding rhythm
Of drums, hands, feet—driving.

“Remember your Grandfather” echoed
On the rhythm. He appeared on stage
Larger than he had ever been in life.

Tears streamed—“He would have loved this!”
Primeval sensation drove his body
And mine as we entrained with the drum.

Remembered days with him—the
Dark tavern—blue smoke hanging
Sullenly in the sodden air.

The bar supporting elbows
Of overalled farmers—fresh manure still
Clinging to rubbered boots.

The sweet/sour whiskey and beer breaths
Mingled with aimless talk
Of weather, crops and cows.

They laughed and cried, shared lies
That covered their fears and
Broken dreams—we laughed/cried.

The almost painful rhythm
Brought back the now—then stopped!
We had arrived.

 

 

 

©1990 Richard W. Bredeson. All rights reserved.

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Review of “The Hidden Spirituality of Men” Part 2

May 6, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m in the middle of reading and reviewing Matthew Fox’s book on Men and Spirituality; the subtitle is Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine. In this second installment I’ll look at the  two metaphors, or archetypes, Fox covers in Chapters 3 and 4: “Icarus and Daedalus” and “Hunter-Gatherers.”

I enjoyed Chapter 3 because Fox gets into the stories describing the archetypes which makes the reading much more enjoyable. In addition to the Icarus/Daedalus duo Fox includes the stories of Phaëthon and La Traviata to illustrate his points. The main topic of this chapter is Father/Son relationships and how communications between generations, especially Father/Son communications can go so horribly wrong.  The range of mis-communications here is from not heeding a father’s warnings, to the absentee and then over-indulgent father, to the father who interferes with a son’s love-relationship. These issues are good representations of Father/Son issues. Yet, while the stories are good reminders of “how not to behave” I felt a bit abandoned with the problems at the end of the chapter without a lot of support for “how to be in right relationship” (as in my case) with sons. His only advice at the very end of the chapter is: “[Both] need to remain open and receptive to each other, unafraid to fly and unafraid to learn.” Hmmm…a pretty simplistic and shallow recipe for improved Father/Son relationships.

And why is this important? Much of the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement rests on a core teaching that the world is screwed up by men because they have not had good fathering. Robert Bly’s major thesis revolves around the Father/Son relationship and how we must address and heal that relationship for any real progress to be made either sociologically or spiritually. Now I will reserve final judgment on this chapter until I’ve finished Fox’s last two metaphors, Earth Father and Grandfather Sky. The danger of reviewing as I read is I don’t yet have a full comprehension of Fox’s analysis.

Chapter 4 is an interesting, if rather long and sometimes a bit of a stretch, exploration of the Hunter-Gatherer archetype.  Fox meanders through an homage to hunter-gatherers as intelligent, living in a paradise rich in fruit and game, with little time devoted to the pursuit of food and much time left over for arts, ritual, celebration of spirit and life. Oh, and he does reference the potential for violence in this idyllic wilderness living. And ultimately he comes close to that trap I mentioned on Monday of calling on the warrior archetype as the “Hunters for Justice: Spiritual Warriors.” The stretch I refer to is when he begins to apply the Hunter-Gatherer metaphor to modern life. And the limb he goes out on the furthest is when he attempts to apply the metaphor to our cars! He asks: “Is there a nostalgic connection between cars and our ancient  hunter-gatherer souls?” Well, for me the answer is, “no” my car is just a means for getting me from place to place; and my feet would work OK if I didn’t have the distances to deal with!

I think the point Mr. Fox is trying to make is the Hunter-Gatherer archetype is still a motivator at our core. Some men love to hunt, fish, compete in sports, maintain physical fitness, drive fast cars, provide well for their family, and still have time for ritual, spiritual exploration and fulfillment, and creative pursuits. And yes, some men still have an urge to violence, especially when provoked. It is good to explore this archetype within us, whether we have buried it beneath a veneer of “civilization” or whether we wear it on the surface of our macho, fit physiques. How does the archetype motivate us and how do we control it? Most importantly how can we get in touch with the soul of this archetype who cares for nature and learns to find harmony in all things natural without destroying that which sustains us and loves us?

And speaking of the “Spiritual Warrior”  archetype…that’s his next chapter. I hope he avoids the trap I’m concerned about. I’ll let you know on Monday how successful he is!

Review of “The Hidden Spirituality of Men” Part 1

May 3, 2010 1 comment

I am in the middle of reading Matthew Fox’s book which is subtitled: “Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine.” I plan to review the book in six parts; since there are 12 chapters I’ll review two per post, for the 10 metaphors (archetypes really) and the two concluding chapters which explore the sacred union of masculine and feminine, and other sacred unions.

This is an interesting time for me to be reading Fox’s book on the heels of reading and reviewing Joseph Gelfer’s book on masculine spiritualities over the past couple of weeks. You may recall that Dr. Gelfer isn’t particularly fond of archetypes, especially when they reinforce patriarchy. As I’m reading Fox I am very much aware of this sensitivity and constantly on the lookout for such traps.

The first two archetypes of the book are “Father Sky” and “The Green Man.” These could be very dangerous patriarchy traps. Dr. Gelfer even refers to the Green Man as a version of the “Wild Man” of the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement who can, in fact, be dangerous!  But Fox, to a large extent, tip-toes around the trap and doesn’t seem to be calling all men to rise up and take back their “rightful place” in the home and family as so much of the Christian Men’s Movement seems to do.

The “Father Sky” chapter traces the history of our wonder at that awesome arch overhead, brilliantly blue to storm-threatening back in the day, deepest black and often littered with stars at night. He reports on pre-modern, modern and post-modern views and rejoices that Father Sky is “alive again” in our era. I like this flow from awe and worship to the despair of John Calvin and Bertrand Russell and back now to a post-modern respect through recent scientific explorations and discoveries. He uses The View from the Center of the Universe by Joel Primach and Nancy Abrams as a reference to highlight the importance of humans. For me this was overly anthropocentric drawing specific attention to the importance of humans not only in our own solar system but through the entire cosmos. But they do express some interesting thoughts on what they call the “Goldilocks Principle” believing there are many things about humans that are “just right.”

I especially liked the section on “The Dance of Father Sky and Mother Earth.” This brings in a nice balance to the equation of life and the inter-dependencies we rely on for both breath and sustenance. Fox concludes with a reminder from Thomas Berry: “We will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things come into being. Indeed the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.” This is a nice counter balance to the wonder at the human expressed by Primach and Abrams.

I very much appreciated Fox’s chapter two, second archetype, on “The Green Man.” I have done some of my own study on the Green Man and enjoyed the reminders Fox offers. One of my fondest images, in fact I have it on my business cards, is of a Green Man face in a stained glass window in St. Peter Ad Vincula Church in Pennal, Wales. According to my good friend, Geraint ap Iorwerth, Rector of the Church, this is the only Green Man in a stained glass church window in all of Great Britain. Fox reports the Green Man archetype is on the rise again. With all the interest in paganism, ecology, the greening of the world, I believe the Green Man would be an excellent symbol for our return to Nature. He says: ‘Embracing the Green Man creates a new male empowerment, a new warriorhood on behalf of Mother Earth and her creatures. Is this not what is happening today as we talk of “green buildings” and “green politics,” of “green business” and Greenpeace, of “green belts around cities” and “green economics”?’ While I like this call to the greening of our world again, I am highly aware of this reference to the warrior archetype. Are we dancing perilously close to the patriarchy trap?

Comments on “Numen, Old Men” – Part 6: Conclusion

April 27, 2010 3 comments

Chapter 8 of Dr. Gelfer’s book: Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy is titled: Conclusion. Here Dr. Gelfer provides both a summary of his findings and some thoughts on the way forward in his last section: Constructing a New Relationship Between Men and Spirituality. In discussing this chapter I’d like to present some of my own conclusions about his findings as well.

By way of introducing this chapter Dr. Gelfer refers to the “intentions” of the various men’s movements and masculine spiritualities he has explored versus their “effects.” As we’ve dialogued about this through the last 5 posts I have argued that my experience of the mythopoetic men’s movement does not match Dr. Gelfer’s reporting and criticism. He has stated that my intentions and experience do not match what has been reported in the literature and that it is the effects of the movement which he has criticized. It is my belief that there have been good effects from the movement, not only personal but in general. Dr. Gelfer has investigated a narrow slice of the movement, much narrower than my experience. I do realize that my intention influences my experience and tends to bias it to a degree. However, the movement touches on much more than what is reviewed  in Numen, Old Men.

An example here is the subject of “archetypes” which Dr. Gelfer titles the first section of this chapter. He has emphasized the Moore/Gillette King/Warrior and the Robert Bly Wild Man archetypes presuming these are the only (or even main) three which influence the mythopoetic movement. This isn’t the case.  Bly is a poet and to neglect the Lover/Poet archetype in this review is an oversight. For my first Men’s Conference in 2002, Martín Prechtel was one of the leaders; he is a “magician/shaman/healer” (among many things) of the highest caliber. All four of the Moore/Gillette archetypes are emphasized. Furthermore, Dr. Gelfer’s claim that “the masculinity promoted by archetypes is of a patriarchal nature and results in a patriarchal spirituality” is a stretch. The archetypes I experienced are not all of a “patriarchal nature.”

He also criticizes the use of myths in these various movements. It’s the claim that “all the versions of masculine spirituality look to myths for inspiration when suggesting how masculinity should function both socially and spiritually” which, again, is a stretch. The words I object to here are “inspiration” and “should function.” I agree that myths, stories, poems are used as metaphors, teaching tools, in my experience of the mythopoetic movement. Sometimes these stories are examples of how NOT to function, either socially or spiritually. Archetypes and myths offer models for how humanity views itself either historically or mythologically. These are lessons for us. Archetypes may not be “hardwired” into our reptilian brains as Moore/Gillette may claim (an example of over-exuberance in their modeling). But they represent a structuring of the vast and otherwise incomprehensible collective unconscious so we can take advantage of all that has gone before us as humans. We can even learn about the limitations and exploitations by patriarchy when looking closely at the archetypes and their contexts in mythology.

I have reviewed Dr. Gelfer’s other main points along the way, so I won’t repeat those here in this summary. I’ll jump now to the final section of his Conclusions.  He spends several pages discussing the categorization of this field of study; he places the current work in ‘men’s studies in religion’. As noted yesterday, he moves away from the category ‘masculine spiritualities’ to the preferred ‘men and spirituality’. A useful suggestion in all of this is to open up the field of study to all – this is not a study “by men, on men, for men” but needs rather be “on men, by everyone, for everyone”. In the end he concludes “It is not always necessary to coin new phrases to describe ‘new’ realities.” But it is necessary to move beyond the idea that we can simply ‘rediscover’ useful ways of doing masculinity”. I agree, but in my mind this does not require us to discard archetypes and myths but to use them as teaching aids about how things went wrong before so these old lessons aren’t repeated.

Dr. Gelfer embraces this idea that engaging the Jungian shadow elements of archetypes may be a step forward for the men’s movements. He claims this is an unrealized potential for the mythopoetic men’s movement; but here, too, I need to disagree because, in my experience we did engage with the ‘human shadow’ to learn from and move beyond our limiting beliefs and sociologically defined gender biases. Dr. Gelfer would like to refute archetypes altogether but realizes they are so ingrained in our thinking that this would be difficult. Perhaps they are so ingrained because there really is something to them. And, yes, I agree these archetypes can be revisioned: “let us turn them into calcifications of a liberatory rather than a patriarchal worldview.” We need to remain open to and encourage discussion of men’s experiences of spirituality and that rejects patriarchy. Such a conversation “is a pro-man conversation because it is pro-person, which by necessity must invovle the liberation of all people.”

I enjoyed Dr. Gelfer’s book very much; and I learned a lot from recent studies he cites in several fields I have not explored before. I think he was overly critical and one-sided in his review of the mythopoetic men’s movement and their achievements; but I am admittedly biased here because I have had positive growth experiences from my involvement, not back to a patriarchal or hegemonic masculine role, but forward to a fuller and more balanced human role. He does conclude with some thought about a way ahead in this important field of study and I look forward to further reading and exchange.

But I plan to take a break from his work and turn toward one of Matthew Fox’s recent books, The Hidden Spirituality of Men. Interestingly this is subtitled “Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine”. Hopefully these metaphors will not reawaken the patriarchy!

Comments on “Numen, Old Men” – Part 5: Sexual Difference, Spirituality and Space

April 26, 2010 1 comment

Time flies! I had meant to post this comment on Friday. However, my Goddess, Rosemary, hosted a weekend-long workshop/playshop here in Colorado Springs and I got all wrapped up in supporting her project. I was the sound-engineer, videographer, caterer, chief go-for, and incidental participant! And it was a great weekend – I had a wonderful time! (And, hey, I was the only male in this wonderful group of Goddesses, so of course I had a wonderful time!)

Now a commercial: Dr. Joseph Gelfer has begun a new project which he brought to my attention through a comment on “Part 1” of this series of posts on his book. The new project sound terrific and may be considered (by me at first glance) a follow-on to Numen/Old Men. The project is called The Masculinity Conspiracy and you can find it at http://masculinityconspiracy.com/. I am looking forward to reading this “blog/book” as it unfolds (is revealed) and from my reading and enjoying Numen/Old Men I’m sure Dr. Gelfer will be at his best, both thorough in his research and challenging in his thought provoking and critical style. And perhaps I’ll post some comments on his new effort here, time permitting.

And now on with my review: Chapter 7 (the last before his concluding chapter) of Dr. Gelfer’s book: Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy is titled: Sexual Difference, Spirituality and Space. In some ways I wish I had read this chapter first because it gave me a more complete grounding in the deeper meaning of “masculinities” which is driving this whole exploration. Yes, Dr. Gelfer does touch on this in his introductory chapter where he defines his use of the term “masculine.” And there he touches on the subjects of  “sex role theory”, the confusion of terms like “masculine spirituality”, “men’s spirituality”, and “male spirituality.” In fact the whole subject of biological sex and sociological gender while touched on in the introduction is more thoroughly explored in this chapter and hence provides even stronger background material for earlier arguments. Of course, the amplifying material in Chapter 7 strengthens the  book’s arguments so may be better placed where it is as a building block toward the conclusion (which I’ll review tomorrow).

All that said, Chapter 7 provided me an excellent survey of a lot of material in this fascinating area of “sex/gender” research which has largely escaped this heterosexual’s attention. While I have been working with Rosemary to formulate what it means to balance the “masculine” and “feminine” spirits within each of us with the goal of becoming “better” and “more balanced” individuals, I did not stop to even think about what it means to have a “masculine inner spirit” and a “feminine inner spirit.” Perhaps I took for granted that everyone would understand these terms. But what I am learning is that there is much confusion, even in the academic world, as to how these terms are defined and used in the literature.  Dr. Gelfer sites several researchers, and I was drawn in particular to some of the citations of Judith Butler’s from Gender Trouble in which she highlights “the tenuousness of gender ‘reality'”. Dr. Gelfer states: “Butler questions the presumption of a binary gender system in which there is some obvious connection between sex and gender, arguing instead for an appreciation of gender in which ‘man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one'”.  He concludes: “At an absolute level it becomes problematic to use the words masculine and feminine at all, even the words man and woman, in both their gender-implied meaning and also physically”. It becomes more appropriate to explore sexual differences not across men/women, male/female, masculine/feminine but from person to person. Rather than examine the polarities it is far more appropriate to examine the continuum of what it means to be human.

In this case the whole notion of “masculine spiritualities” begins to break down. Dr. Gelfer explores this in the section of this chapter titled “Sexual Differences and Spirituality.” Revisiting the earlier chapters points out the confusion in the use of the various terms masculine, male, men in the spiritual context. But to discard the examination of “masculine spirituality” would naturally lead to the discard of “feminine spirituality”; yet, here I agree with Dr. Gelfer that this would be “counter-intuitive.” I like the compromise he reaches whereby we can examine “‘men and spirituality’ and ‘women and spirituality’.” This makes any such study unambiguous and inclusive.

The last section of the chapter is a fascinating examination of “Masculine Spirituality and Space.” Here the distinction is the space/direction of ‘up and out’ as masculine and ‘down and in’ as feminine. This section is a fairly deep exploration of this spatial and directional bias which for me doesn’t have to be biased at all. The argument is that up/out is somehow “better” than down/in. This is like saying north is better than south. But, as one of my teachers, Martín Prechtel, has pointed out: all the maps and globes of the earth have north as up and south as down! Why? In relationship to the sun and within the solar system and galaxy there is no up or down to the earth’s position! So, why this cultural bias? In this section I particularly liked an expanded view of this spatial concept by employing terms like “borderlands, webs, partial objects and partial subjects” and especially “rhizomes” as “a different kind of orienting metaphor.” The rhizome analogy is explored by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari; rhizomatic space “‘is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo‘”. Yes! This is the vision I have of “spiritual space.” Interestingly Deleuze and Guattari “have a soft spot for shamanism, ‘the most beautiful and most spiritual’…This is not because they romanticize shamanism as pre-Capitalist space, but because there is something essentially schizoid about the shaman, dwelling in between worlds, simultaneously in different worlds.” This clearly characterizes the deep spirituality of someone like Martín Prechtel!

So, just as we can think of gender as a continuum, so we can think of space and direction as a continuum, (which it really is!) with no beginning or end, no center, no balance point, but rather an “interbeingness” which is at once a borderland area, immanent and transcendent, a non-local “residence” of the numinous. Here there is no up/out/down/in but just an isness where we find the Holy.

How many of us men are there who “simply drift by without ever giving the matter [sex and gender] any serious thought and rarely face any impetus to change as the status quo ensures [our] continued privilege”? This is an important question; thanks to Dr. Gelfer who asks it pointedly and demonstrates the need to give this matter some serious thought; and provides us excellent resources to consider. He concludes in his final chapter with an offer of “how the relationship between men and spirituality might begin to change”. I’ll explore this in a final “Part 6” post tomorrow.

Comments on “Numen, Old Men” – Part 4: Gay Spirituality: A Way Out for Men

April 22, 2010 2 comments

As I read along in Dr. Gelfer’s book I seem to move, for me, into ever newer territory. I have had a reasonable amount of experience with the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement; I have serious grounding in Christianity and some experience with men’s ministries; I have read Wilber to a reasonable extent and am at least conversant with the Integral Model. However, while I have a number of gay friends we have never had any conversations about spirituality in the gay world. The closest I have come is an exchange with my gay Wiccan cousin [see an earlier post and his comment]. Chapter 6 of Joseph Gelfer’s book: Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy is titled: Gay Spirituality: A Way Out for Men; and I have read it with a completely new appreciation  of a previously completely unexplored area of spirituality.

While I have no way of critiquing Dr. Gelfer’s exploration in this chapter, being in this unfamiliar territory, I can certainly say it is an excellent, if “whirlwind,” survey of contemporary thought in Gay Spirituality. And he makes some excellent points along the way vis-à-vis masculine spirituality. Since this may be new territory for some of my readers I’ll attempt to summarize Dr. Gelfer’s findings and conclusions by following this chapter’s outline:

He begins by explaining that, while there is a great deal of variety in how gay men are spiritual, “gay spirituality does have some commonality beyond the fact that it is engaged by men who identify themselves as being gay: it offers the possibility for men to practice a spirituality which, for the most part, avoids the patriarchal traps which have littered the mythopoetic movement and the various Christian men’s movements.”

The first section of the chapter presents popular gay spirituality by which is meant: “the type of spirituality that resists categorization by faith tradition: it can appeal as easily to Christian mysticism as to Buddhism or Paganism. Popular gay spirituality opens a window on what is sometimes referred to as ‘gay consciousness’ or ‘gay spirit’ and it is this that provides the most obvious alternative to the patriarchal norm.” And while this is a distinct difference from what is explored in earlier chapters [about men’s movements], there are also some similarities: “popular gay spirituality draws noticeably on neo-Jungian archetypes and neo-paganism in much the same way as the mythopoetic movement.”

By way of example of popular gay spirituality, Dr. Gelfer inserts here a section on the closest thing to a gay spirituality movement: Radical Faeries.  “The typical Faerie is ‘firmly committed to counterhegemonic values’ and in particular seeks to subvert a normative understanding of masculinity.” They do, however, rely on archetypes, especially the Androgyne, and in this there is a lot of similarity to the mythopoetic movement.  “The most prevalent of Faerie spiritual beliefs draw upon Wicca and neo-paganism, most notably of the Goddess/Earth Mother.” This points to a clear connection to Robert Bly who established the Conference of the Great Mother in 1975! And what I would conclude here it that my blog is aptly titled and a clear pointer to “a way out for men.”

The next section presents gay theology. “Gay theology is underpinned by a critical awareness of how patriarchy operates within society and spirituality to shut down atypical masculinities in a way that is almost wholly absent in either the mythopoetic or Christian men’s movements.” This political awareness is central to gay theology. Four types of gay theology are explored in this section: gay liberal theology, gay liberation theology, erotic/lesbian theology and queer theology. And it is this last type which may contain the most hope for all of us: “queer theology, instead of asking gay and lesbians to come out, … seeks to liberate all people from constructions of sexuality and gender.”

And Dr. Gelfer explores this last type of gay theology in his final section: A Spiritual Queer-For-All. “To queer something is to disrupt and problematize the norm, particularly (although not exclusively) in terms of gender, thus ‘queer theologies are a refusal to normalization…'” He makes the point here that queering something is to move it way from the norm, thus liberating it from the expectations of heteronormativity. “As we move into queer realms, those aspects[e.g. resistance to patriarchal spiritualities] become less identifiably ‘gay’ and therefore are even easier to apply to straight men or, more specifically any man, as queer also troubles a “straight’ identity. A good deal of this section discusses the application of queer theory for straight men, which at first glance may appear like the co-option of the queer in a continued campaign of heteronormativity, and a glossing over of the spiritual experiences of queer people. However, the aim is not to focus on straight men per se but simply to offer them as the missing variable in the equation of queer potential for all men.” Dr. Gelfer concludes this section by claiming: “Queer theology is the way out for any person who wants to articulate a non-patriarchal masculine spirituality.”

Even so, Dr. Gelfer concludes this chapter by saying: “We still have no useful (non-heteropatriarchal) application of the phrase ‘masculine spirituality’.” He explores this further in Chapter 7: Sexual Difference, Spirituality and Space, which I’ll review tomorrow.

I have used a lot of Dr. Gelfer’s own words in this post today; this is because I am in unfamiliar territory. But he has given me much food for thought and an excellent bibliography on the subject of Gay Spirituality. Clearly, there are gems of wisdom and an evolutionary path to be explored here.

Am I ready to “queer my approach” to Men and the Goddess? Or, by definition, have I already done so!

Comments on “Numen, Old Men” – Part 3: Integral Spirituality or Muscular Spirituality?

April 20, 2010 2 comments

I have long been enamored with models of human behavior, development, personality, origins, …on and on. From simple typology models, such as Myers-Briggs, to more complex models, including the Enneagram, from spiritual esoteric developments such as the Kabbalah to Jungian archetypal explorations, and on to Ken Wilber and the Integral Model of “a brief history of everything” I’ve studied them and applied them to my own development, understanding, and yes, even (maybe especially) enjoyment.  Most models, of course, are found wanting in one or more respects. They are models, after all, and not the real thing. They can’t be expected to operate perfectly in the real world. This is just like creating climate models and then expecting accurate weather reporting – it just doesn’t happen!

Ken Wilber has created an elegant and complex model of the world, especially of people and their history in the world. I have enjoyed poking into it, with a relatively non-critical eye, to understand it, but not to test it in all it’s “grandeur.” Chapter 5 of Joseph Gelfer’s book: Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy is titled: Integral Spirituality or Muscular Spirituality? and in it he takes a critical look at Wilber’s Integral Model and its perspectives on spirituality and masculinity. And, just as all models have them, Dr. Gelfer finds some serious issues with Wilber’s.

I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter and believe it to be the best argued so far in the book. It is both informative and entertaining at the same time; I laughed out loud at points, often at the expense of Mr. Wilber. For example Dr. Gelfer observes that Wilber runs afoul of his own “pre/trans fallacy” insight. The pre/trans fallacy leads to a confusion of pre-rational and transrational spiritual explorations by elevating “archaic and magical reasoning to the heady heights of Wilberian transrationalism, and scientific rationalists can reduce Wilberian transrationalism to the primeval swamp of archaic and magical pre-rationalism.” Then “Wilber’s whole application of masculine and feminine ‘types’ falls foul of the pre/trans fallacy….Wilber’s simplistic approach to gender, even if we give him credit for removing masculine and feminine one step away from actual men and women (which he does on occasion) is clearly pre-rational.”!

Yes, you could say there are times when Wilber argues out of both sides of his mouth!

There are also some parts of the chapter which elicited a “groan” from me as I read about the extent to which Wilber and some of his followers of the Integral approach have perpetuated the notion that women (the feminine) are some how inferior to men (the masculine)! As an example: “even in the noosphere [the sphere of evolved thought which transcends and includes the biosphere] Wilber says women should not expect complete parity, ‘given the unavoidable aspects of childbearing, a parity in the public/private domain would be around 60-40 male/female'” – yeah, he quotes Wilber here! And Dr. Gelfer then rightly quips: “Dashed are the hopes of many who thought that in the noosphere would be realized more flexible workplace policies.”!

In my mind the main argument here is that Wilber has not dealt very well with masculine/feminine issues and has not modeled the incredible complexity of these notions at all deeply. To rely on two dimensional characterizations of male and female as polar opposite manifestations of humanity is naive. And as elegant and useful as some of Mr. Wilber’s thought is, he fails to probe this area of masculine spirituality much below the surface of the trite characterizations of masculinity/femininity by the evangelical men’s movement.

Tomorrow we take a break from Dr. Gelfer for a comment on this week’s Mystic Message from The Divine Feminine.