Cotton Candy or Character

Recently in Sanford, NC a group of masked men with most wearing a bulletproof vest, harassed a gathering of folks who were conducting a drag event in a local brewery. The occasion was a fund raiser for a local LBTGQ organization, but when the masked men became too threatening the organizer had to call local authorities for her event to safely continue. However, the group of masked men exercised its right of assembly and remained a threatening presence. One masked man displayed a sticker that read:  “Join your local Proud Boys. Be a Man among Men.”

That phrasing interests me because, as a male, I wonder how joining the Proud Boys  offers support for what it means to be “a Man among Men.” In fact, as a 76- year-old, Christ following, heterosexual male who fathered six children, I am still trying to figure out what it means to be a man. Although my biological father offered no wisdom on being a man, I was fortunate to have a few men in my life like my high school wrestling coach Mr. Mauldin who exemplified being “a Man among Men.” Also, through reading the Bible, I have gained invaluable wisdom on that subject and additional help came from reading Becoming a Man and Fathers and Sons. Yet, after all that modeling of male educators and learning through reading, I still wonder what being  “a Man among Men” means.

However,  if one follows the “logic” of the sign, being  “a Man among Men” can be as simple as:  Dressing in the uniformed attire of the group; or walking and protesting in public only when surrounded by other males of the tribe; or wearing tactical gear such as a bullet-proof vest; or wearing a gator or other such mask to hide identity; or that by joining the group a male will suddenly become “a man among men”? It sounds as if a metamorphosis will take place.

But is being “a Man among Men” that simple? If that were true then anyone who attends a Christian church would automatically become a Christ follower; or any Christ follower who attends a Synagogue would become a Jew; or any Buddhist who attends a Baptist church would become a Baptist; and any Baptist who attends a Mosque would become a Muslim,  and so on. I suspect that being “a Man among Men” requires more than joining a group of masked men strutting about and attempting to frighten other folks. That is what bullies do, isn’t it?  A bully can’t function without the support of toadies. A bully attacks what is perceived as weaker members of a disenfranchised group.  A bully is afraid. A bully is unsure. A bully longs for what never was.

But a true man among men has faith in truth and because of faith he has no fear.  His faith, not some shallow belief in a group’s dogma, allows him to be gentle because of the strength that he derives from his truth. Having truth gives strength which gives the capacity to be gentle, kind, benevolent, and more. Simply put, “a Man among Men” can be gentle because he is strong.

Bombast! That is a good word describing so much of our culture today. We have politicians like Ted Budd who in campaign ads strutted about with a pistol strapped to his hip. We have groups that assemble in order to intimidate those they oppose. So much of what  we see and hear is a clanging of cymbals, a noise that offers no solutions.

Over 100 photographs of the Sanford episode have been posted on-line. As I scrolled through them I noticed a few of the bullet-proof vests had Latin crosses stitched on them. Take a moment to grasp that juxtaposing:  the Christian symbol of Jesus’ horrific death sewn on a modern garb of violence. I wonder how anyone can equate one with the other because the Gospels, at least in my reading, advocate love not violence.

But that use of the Latin cross reveals today’s paralysis in America: Too many of us have embraced a cotton candy vision for America. Instead of taking the path to character and the work that that requires, we choose what is convenient and attractive.  Yet we choose the easy at our peril and if we do not right ourselves, we will become a floundering ship without a rudder.

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