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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.

Men and Emotional Health – Grief

November 9, 2012 Leave a comment

In recent posts I’ve been writing about emotional health and balance. And just yesterday I included some thoughts about balancing yin and yang energies as we go inside to seek guidance, to switch on our internal GPS and determine if any course corrections are needed. In these turbulent times, the waning days of 2012, I’m finding the need to go inside frequently to establish balance and take a close look at my route forward!

And part of what is going on for me, what I’m working on is processing grief. Sometimes I look back on my life and sense that I’ve done a lot of grieving, and of working through the grief that so many men seem to feel. This goes back to the 80s and Robert Bly’s Mytho-Poetic Movement. He was all about the grief process and how little western society allows any real space for this emotion. Another of my teachers, I met him through Robert, addresses grief as one side of a coin; the other side is praise! This comes from Martín Prechtel (see my review of his most recent book).

What Martín offers is very much in keeping with the Taoist approach to transforming emotions to virtues which I addressed here a few days ago. For Taoists Grief is transformed to Inspiration.

Grief is a good way to end this series on the transformation of emotions. We in the west pay much too little attention to this deep emotion. It is our unexpressed, unprocessed, unmetabolized grief, even more than anger, which leads us into wars. Grief leaves us empty if we don’t deal with it. And we then fill that emptiness with aggression. A milder but still potent manifestation of this emotion is Disappointment. Here again we have no good way to process this. We need to learn to transform grief and disappointment to Awe, Inspiration and Praise. Again there is deep Inner Work needed to work through this emotion. Our stories help with understanding. Meditation helps with moving from Grief to Praise, from Disappointment to Inspiration.

Grief is often associated with death, of course. Death is the ultimate loss. When we lose something, especially a loved one, an emptiness opens up that is difficult to fill. When we go inside and touch that emptiness we too often shrink away from it. It is a cold and bitter sensation that we would rather avoid, cover up, fill in, and ignore. None of us likes that hollowness; it is painful!

So, how do we get to Inspiration and Praise from that lonely, empty place? How can we even suggest that there is Praise on the other side of Grief? When we lose someone truly close to us through death, we turn to celebrating a life lived well. We remember shared stories, inspiring moments together, important milestones on our shared journey. We find many ways to praise that life. And from the specific, from that loved one’s life, we can expand to celebrate Life, the larger cycle of Life and Death in the great context of Becoming.

Here we find connection. And through this connection to the Greater we can begin to fill in the empty hole in our middle. This is a lengthy process. It takes time and work, inner work, to reach for the connection; to move into the context of Life. This is where we find Inspiration and reason enough for Praise.

Grief to Praise. It is not an easy route; it takes time (more than the three days offered by businesses to employees for the death of loved ones!). It requires an expansion; the hole in the heart is not filled in but the heart expands to somehow accommodate the hole! Take the time for this expansion process. If you find yourself grieving, whether it’s for the loss of a loved one or some other great loss (job, home, youth, energy, health…) sit with it; touch it gently; move into the emptiness; begin to see the possibility for expansion. Do the inner work, a bit at a time as you can.

And remember to bless yourself in this great work!

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 2: The Evangelical and Catholic Men’s Movements

April 19, 2010 1 comment

Chapter 3 of Joseph Geler’s book: Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy is titled: The Evangelical Men’s Movement: Networking, Violence and Sport. Chapter 4 is: The Catholic Men’s Movement: Sacrements and Adoration. Today I review both chapters together, since both have their roots in the mythopoetic men’s movement and have Christianity as a common theme.

First, I have little to no experience with Christian Men’s movements. While I was working with Bly, Moore and others in the early 90s Rosemary and I belonged to a large liberal Presbyterian church (PC-USA). Since men’s movements were in the news then this church did initiate a men’s Bible study group which I participated in a few times. That experience was a far cry from some of the events and men’s ministries I have read about both in the press and through Dr. Gelfer’s book. We did not go out into the woods to “hug trees,” we did not espouse a return to patriarchy and strong family leadership, we had no intention of declaring “war on evil,” and we did not engage in sports of any kind (even though one of the leaders of the group was the local high school football coach!).

Second, while these two movements may have sprung from some of the concepts and ideas behind the mythopoetic men’s movement, I see little resemblance among them as Dr. Gelfer examines the extremes of the movements.

Third, the overview of both Christian-based movements presented by Dr. Gelfer seems thorough and good, balanced reporting. I am pleased to have read about these movements but am not persuaded to join one! For the most part I find these movements as devoid of spirituality as Dr. Gelfer claims the mythopoetic movement to be. The evangelical movement seems to have tended toward a return to patriarchy and war; again, an emphasis on the King and Warrior archetypes. In fact I would say this movement is almost entirely rooted in these archetypes to the exclusion of the more spiritual archetypes (here I would claim Magician and Lover are more spiritual; and I’m using the Moore/Gillette quadrant model). It is about “male bonding” – hardly spiritual. It’s about recruiting (evangelizing) for the “war.”

Fourth, the Catholic movement, while beginning much the same way as the evangelical movement, tends to have some redeeming qualities, especially in areas of sacraments and adoration. We seem to be getting closer to real spirituality here! This movement is not about evangelizing but ministry to and with men. In one survey of Catholic men their primary motivation for being part of a men’s ministry was to be with other men. (Secondary was to gain self awareness and third (finally something spiritual) was to explore the relationship to God!)

Lastly, Dr. Gelfer compares the evangelical and Catholic movements: “Numerous Catholic men’s ministries…carried direct allusions to Promise Keepers, asking their members to bear witness to various promises or pledges. Other themes predominate in evangelical men’s ministry can be identified in a Catholic context, such as servant leadership and allusions to violence and sport.” And he contrasts the movements: “While evangelical men’s ministries go to some quite extraordinary lengths to masculinize both their aesthetics and theology, there is no such common practice among Catholic men’s ministries.”

The Catholic approach seems a “kinder, gentler” approach to exploring masculine spirituality compared to the evangelical approach. Yet, I am startled that spirituality seems to be an afterthought in both movements. My personal experience of the secular mythopoetic movement (contrary to Dr. Gelfer’s research) is than we were much more engaged with the transcendent than either the evangelical or Catholic movements!

Tomorrow I move on to the 5th chapter and explore the Integral approach to masculine spirituality. I look forward to it! I’ve read a reasonable amount of Ken Wilber material and have a certain respect for the Integral model. Let’s see how Dr. Gelfer rips into it!

Men and Grief (part 4)

April 19, 2010 1 comment

I don’t usually post on Sundays but my exchange with Joseph Gelfer on the “mythopoetic men’s movement” has me continuing to think and explore both Joseph’s critique of the movement and my own experiences with it. So, here are a couple random thoughts on the subject:

Over the last couple of days I’ve listened to part of a recording of the 2002 Men’s Conference hosted by Robert Bly in Minnesota. The first full day of that conference was on September 11, 2002, just one year after “9-11.”  Through that listening almost eight years later, I recalled  the feelings of anger, grief, and a remaining disbelief that this had happened. We were encouraged to share all of those emotions and to explore them in the much larger context of the world view of that event. Many of us expressed dismay at the lost opportunity to better ourselves and learn from the event and our responses to it. Most were alarmed at the “saber rattling” and desire for vengeance that seemed to be gripping so much of the nation at that time; the call to war! Grief was at the core of the emotional attitude in that group of 100 or so men. We were experiencing it and getting guidance in how to deal with it. Participants and leaders alike shared in this common and heart-deep sense that the world had changed and we were being called to change with it. At the end of this sharing and grieving we were led to express our feelings in song: “Oh, the distance between us is holy ground.” The words themselves are enough to plunge me into deepest feeling; the sound of a hundred male voices singing with full hearts was an awesome experience; and the sense of separation, among individuals, nations, continents, beliefs, cultures,  melted into holiness.

And if you have been reading the exchange between Joseph Gelfer and me about the “movement” I offer this poem about archetypes and development which came to me the other day:

Wounded Man

Wounded healer,
Heal thyself;
Recover that lost piece
Which bleeds in some far place.

Wounded warrior,
Come home now;
Sooth thy fevered brow,
And sing songs of peace.

Wounded holy king,
Rule in peace;
Strengthen thy green land,
And love your people free.

Wounded poet,
Write thy verse;
Create the songs of peace
To heal the warrior-king.

Comments on “Numen, Old Men” – Part 1: The Mythopoetic Movement

April 16, 2010 5 comments

I’m closely and carefully reading Joseph Gelfer’s book on “Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy” because he offers a clear review of what has been going on with men and spirituality over the last couple of decades and maybe some hope for where we can go as men looking for progress rather than a regress to our baser and lower motivations and instincts. This will be a multi-part comment because there is a lot of material to cover.

As I reported at length yesterday I was directly involved to some degree in the “Mythopoetic Movement.” Dr. Gelfer’s second chapter (after an introductory chapter) is titled: “The Mythopoetic Movement: Getting it Wrong from the Start.”  You can imagine how this caught my attention!

The chapter covers much of my life in the 90s. He reviews the movement, the luminaries and their work. It is a good and fairly detailed review which covers much of the material, yes, some of the shortcomings, but I also think there is something which got lost in the research. I have a hunch that Dr. Gelfer’s research was based to a large extent on the primary and secondary sources with no real experience with either the movement or its leaders. Since I had some reasonable and positive experience of both my view is different. Here I’ll go into Dr. Gelfer’s review, findings, conclusions and then amplify these with my own thoughts.

Dr. Gelfer characterizes the movement using four major themes he culls from the literature: archetypes as identified by Jung and extensively researched and adapted by Robert Moore (a Jungian psychoanalyst) and Douglas Gillette (mythologist); wilderness (also called wildness) sometimes characterized by the Green Man and certainly by Iron John, probably the most notorious character in the movement and main character of the book by Robert Bly of the same title; fatherlessness as an explanation of why we are in this mess in the first place and why we need a movement; and initiation as a key missing component to the raising of American, possibly all of western, men.

He also claims that there is little if any spirituality in this movement. He defines spirituality across two pages in his book and finds one offered by Robert Forman “perfectly acceptable” as do I (Forman in Grassroots Spirituality: What It Is, Why It Is Here, Where It Is Going, 2004): “Grassroots Spirituality involves a vaguely pantheistic ultimate that is indwelling, sometimes bodily, as the deepest self and accessed through not-strictly-rational means of self transformation and group process that becomes the holistic organization for all life.”

With that definition and these themes in mind I’ll briefly summarize Dr. Gelfer’s critiques, offer my own thoughts and conclude with an overall impression of both the book, so far, and the movement, so far.

Archetypes: Dr. Gelfer focuses on the work of Moore and Gillette. I was fortunate enough to take a weekend workshop with Robert Moore before their four archetypal books were even publish. The first one, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine which summarized their model had just been published in 1990. Dr Gelfer spends most of his time examining the King and Warrior archetypes and claims that these represent a call for return to the patriarchy and also claims that these two are the chief focal points for the movement. And here I disagree based on my experience with Moore, the use of the archetypes with Bly and others and my own sense of the operation of these archetypes in my life. Moore and Gillette don’t focus on these two archetypes to the exclusion of the Magician and the Lover. And they don’t call for a return to these archetypes to define the Mature Masculine. Rather they call for a balance and a development. And they clearly point out the shadow side of each of the four archetypes and how they can operate destructively in men’s lives. They also use this archetypal model in a developmental sense claiming we are born as divine children in the King quadrant, move through adolescence and early manhood into the warrior quadrant, move on in our prime to our magician quadrant, as we mature and grow in wisdom we move on to our Lover quadrant, and then as senior men (maybe even grandfathers) we finally move back into the King quadrant where we are generative in our maturity. Obviously this is a simplistic model both of the masculine and the developmental stages we go through. It is meant to be instructive rather than conclusive. There is much more detail (five books worth!) that I can’t go into here, but I will conclude that the model has been very useful in my life as a guide to who I am, how I got here and where I am going. And while Moore & Gillette claim these archetypes are “hardwired” into our psyches I may not go quite that far. I believe we can rise above our development and the archetypes which instruct us but don’t necessarily limit us. And here I go back to the definition of spirituality as a means of self transformation, yes, even beyond archetypes.

Wilderness: Yes, Iron John was a wild man. Dr. Gelfer seems to believe this too is a call to return to strong patriarchy. There is certainly a lot about the mythopoetic movement that calls for a return to nature, a respect for nature and the natural. Clearly there is power in this. But there is also love. Rather than King and Warrior in the Wild Man I see Magician and Lover. When Robert Bly refers to the “soft male” he is referring, in my mind, to absent males who have abdicated, not their patriarchal role as King and Warrior, but their male role in the world as  leader and protector. And there is clearly, in my mind, a reverence here and a “vaguely pantheistic ultimate” at the core of this Wildness. I experienced the “Other” the “Ultimate” in my time within the movement, especially at the “Men’s Conferences” I attended. These were spiritual, transcendent experiences that are not easily found in the literature; but how do you write about the transcendent? Through poetry (of the Lover); through “not-strictly-rational” experiences (of the Magician). I agree with Dr. Gelfer that the Spiritual can be difficult to separate out within the movement’s literature; but it is there to be experienced.

Fatherlessness: This is an important theme in much of Robert Bly’s thought on our current predicament in the post-modern world. He believes absent fathers (boys no longer working side-by-side with their fathers) has meant we have been raised by our mothers to too great an extent and to our detriment. We have been raised without good male role-models; our fathers represent the closest we have to strong, if not positive, models. Here I can agree with some of Dr. Gelfer’s criticism. This theme almost sounds like a blame game; looking for excuses. I personally struggled with this thought and finally abandoned it; I grew up with a wonderful father and worked by his side on the family farm. Yes, this was then, and certainly is now, a rarity. And as I explored this concept of the absent father I reached too far thinking because my father was quiet and we didn’t have deep conversations this meant he was somehow “absent.” But now that I’m well into my own fatherhood and grandfatherhood I realize how important my father’s modeling was in my life. OK, so if I had a “present father” what about the men who did not? I think we find our models as we grow up. And these are choices we make as part of our developmental process. Which leads me to the next and final theme:

Initiation: Bly’s second major book (other than his works of poetry): The Sibling Society focuses especially on the situation in which we are a society of uninitiated adolescents. There are good arguments in this book that we adults (including governing officials) act as children too often. And this can be very scary! (I don’t want to get political here, but I believe we invaded Iraq in a childish and grandiose way resulting in a  country forever changed!).  As we grow up in western culture we do not have tests for maturity; we can test for academic achievement; we can test for attained levels of skill; but emotional and spiritual maturity are difficult to measure. It is precisely this emotional and spiritual attainment which Initiation seeks. It is much more than a rite of passage; it is a process of development for young people to move through. Dr. Gelfer seems to equate this call for Initiation with a return to primitive societies where boys are initiated into the tribe of men to take their rightful places as heads of families, patriarchal leaders. Again, this was not my experience. And I don’t think that is the point of identifying Initiation as a missing component in our society. In my mind we have no process for becoming emotionally mature, spiritual leaders. We need them. We need everyone to be emotionally mature and on a spiritual path of some kind, to access “through not-strictly-rational means of self transformation and group process”  the “holistic organization for all life.” How else will we ever advance Consciousness?

Dr. Gelfer has done a great job in outlining the mythopoetic men’s movement and pointing out some of its weaknesses. I don’t believe it was ever meant to be an end point, but rather a stepping stone, as it’s been for me. It doesn’t really have much life in it any longer, sad to say for young men wondering how to “grow themselves up.” But its leaders have been heroes for me: good models, good thinkers, good Warriors, Magicians, Lovers, Kings. And while I have moved on from some of the more simplistic elements of the movement I sense that I stand on a stronger base for having been part of it.

And, don’t get me wrong; I have very much enjoyed Joseph Gelfer’s book and continue to do so as I read through his critique of the various approaches to masculine spiritualities. And I very much look forward to his recommendations (stay tuned).