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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!

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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!