Treign Up Intro
I never imagined I would start a project like this. Really, it was never on my radar. The first time the thought even crossed my mind was probably about 2010.
I was looking for topics to cover for a children’s pastor conference. I had become well known for speaking on creativity and the arts in children’s ministry. My academic background and experiences were well suited for a period of time when people were looking for training and resources in those areas. But that movement had passed and everyone was on to the next big thing. I decided to offer a class on affirming boys in manhood.
Treign Up is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Subscribed
“Lost Boys” Class
Later in this book, I will go into why I thought that would be a good class to offer at a children’s pastor conference and how I felt qualified enough to offer it. I didn’t think they would accept the proposal because it wasn’t something that was ‘trending’ in children’s ministry. But no one else was teaching anything like it and so I would at least have that going for me.
They accepted my proposal for that class but not any of the others. Classes that were tried and true at conferences like this. Classes on creativity and communication. Classes on spiritual formation of children. Classes on a theology of worship and kids. Classes on drama and movement and other artistic ways to get kids involved in ministry life. Classes on curriculum and chronological bible storytelling. Classes that I was really good at teaching. Time had passed me by it seemed.
They scheduled me on the last day of the conference just before everyone was leaving. 9:00 in the morning. I would have to pay all of my own expenses and the conference wasn’t close. I didn’t even get a booth to sell my materials and resources. I don’t even know why I went. It felt very much like the beginning of the end. The week was uneventful and I was discouraged and forlorn. The whole thing had been a mistake. I was embarrassed for pushing it. That morning, I went into the conference room and to set up that morning. It was a small room. There were difficulties with the audio-visual support. It was chaotic and hectic. At ten minutes until start time I was set up and ready to go. There was only one person in the room. I sighed and asked God for grace. My classes were normally well attended. The whole week had turned into a humiliating bust. And then….
About five minutes before class started, people began showing up. At start time the room was full and a few people were standing in the back. I started with a song from the musical “Shrek” called “I’d Be a Hero”. Everything after that was a blur. All I know is that the people there were starving to hear what to do with their ‘lost boys’. Some of them weren’t even children’s leaders. Some were mothers; mothers raising boys on their own. But all of them were looking for help.
I had not spoken to a group like this before. They were burdened. Perhaps just talking about the subject was helpful. Perhaps being in a room with other people who had the same problems encouraged them. They were not alone. But, I also believe that the core of my message resonated with everyone and I realized that I had much more to say about this subject.
I realized I had other reasons to write this book. Besides the obvious need due to the state of manhood in culture, I had my own story to tell. I was never a man’s man. You know the type? It was the Marlboro guy when I was growing up. The guy who possessed the physical markers of manhood: square jaw, broad shoulders, tall, muscular. “Real Men” had distinctive voices. It was deep, smooth, and sure. Surroundings helped, I suppose: farm, athletic field, auto body shop. I don’t know. What are the intangibles of manliness? Perhaps they are more subjective and that were just a few of the things on my list. In any case, it wasn’t me. I was skinny and slight. Lean was a good descriptor. I was strong and athletic. But my mannerisms didn’t exude manliness. My voice didn’t either. I don’t know why. I wanted them too. I wanted to be a guy’s guy. My dad was known as “Smitty”. I was never a “Smitty”. I don’t think anyone ever called me that. The fact that I had to think about it all tells you everything you need to know. I always wanted a dimple. I thought it would be cool to have a dimple. So, I would grab the inside of my cheek with my teeth hoping that I could make one. Bingo. There were some things I wanted, but I couldn’t change.
And I hated fighting. Always. That’s another book. I did become a pretty good athlete excelling in wrestling and track. And one of my great regrets is never playing high school football. We had a very good high school football team. I would have made an excellent receiver. Too late for that. So why wasn’t I more “manly”?
In most cases where boys are struggling to become men, the issue is the father figure. In many cases, he’s absent. That would include being present but uninvolved and distant. Some dads are so emotionally detached that they are ineffective as fathers. My dad was abusive; physically, emotionally, and mentally. Abusive is not a word I throw around lightly. I spanked my son regularly. But I never ‘hit’ him. Spanking and hitting are two very different things. He was a volcano. You always had to tread lightly around him because just about anything could set him off. One minute, he seemed calm and cool. The next he was a hot mess and if you were anywhere in the general vicinity, you were going to get covered in his angry lava. Afterward, you were left wondering what just happened and why you hurt so bad; in every way.
In my mid-50s, I went through a bought of panic attacks. This was generally so contrary to my nature that I didn’t even think that anxiety was an issue for me. In my healing process, I want a Christian counselor for help and we talked about my father at length because of the familial ties with anxiety. At some point, I had decided that my dad was just an ignorant man. I say that meaning, he didn’t know better. He grew up on a rural farm in PA and lived there all of his life. He rarely left “Muddy Run”, which was the dirt road I grew up on. So, somehow, I felt like his ignorance was a reasonable explanation for how he treated us. And honestly, it contributed to it. Ultimately, however, there was no acceptable reason for how he treated us. It was unacceptable. He was not a good father. But, that was what I got. And sometimes, you have to make do with that.
The proverbial ‘water under the bridge’ has flowed since those days. In the meantime, however, a couple of things happened that saved me from who knows what.
The first and most important was that Jesus Christ came into my life and saved me from death and sin. When I say ‘Jesus saved me from my sin’, I mean I have a sinful nature. It is evil. We are all born with it. There’s even a theology assigned to this notion. It’s called the doctrine of ORIGINAL SIN. It means that all mankind inherits the sin of Adam. It’s in our DNA and we are slaves to it. Anyone who says that humanity has an ounce of good in them does not believe in what I believe the Bible says about this. We are evil because we are slaves to sinful nature. Galatians 4:7 says, “we are no longer slaves to sin, but God’s child. And since you are His child, you are also His heir.” Additionally, Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, (to sin) so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him, we cry, “Abba, Father.” What a beautiful thing it is to call God, “Daddy”. The very notion of this means I didn’t have to follow in my father’s footsteps. I saw a quote recently on Facebook that said, “It ran in the family until it ran into me.” BINGO. But it’s not because I had the power to change it. My course was set. I was a slave to the very nature that would repeat the cycles of sin in me inherited from previous generations. But, Jesus saved me from THAT. Do you see? Because of the cross of Jesus Christ, I now was free to pursue righteousness.
Secondly, I became a father. I had no idea the healing this would bring into my life. It may not have been so as a father to girls. Perhaps. But I was a father to two boys. On November 19, 1991, our first son, Benjamin Clair was born. Four years later, after a miscarriage in between, we had our second son, Samuel Robert on September 11, 1996. I tell my wife that learning to be a husband was hard for me. But being a father was the easiest thing (in some ways) I ever did. Who would have guessed? I didn’t have a good example. Thankfully, I was saved from my sinful nature first. While I’ve never been perfect, my boys have only known me as a Christian man. That has been a blessing to all of us for reasons I still don’t totally understand, even now.
I traveled extensively in ministry while my family was small. At first, it was a family affair, and my wife and then Benjamin traveled together. We were always on the road. We have so many memories of our travels. My wife likes to tell the story of when Benjamin was only days old and we were doing a show about Mary and Joseph. He was our ‘baby Jesus’. I had scheduled performances according to due dates, but he was two weeks late in delivery. So, two weeks after that, he was in his first production! Debbie couldn’t even sit on the car seat because it had been a difficult delivery and had to sit on a ‘donut’ propped up in the back seat. I can tell you that the ‘delivery’ scene in or Christmas story that year was very real to her. Anytime I would try to help move her in the scene, she would slap me. And it hurt!
But after Samuel was born, she was DONE traveling. I can remember an event where a wonderful pastor of a small church felt that God had told him to donate his RV to our ministry. When he announced it in front of the congregation, Debbie burst into tears. Of course, we all assumed she was overwhelmed by his generosity, which was extravagant. It turns out, she didn’t want to travel on the road as a family. So, we made the switch from family ministry to solo ministry and I started traveling on my own.
Back then, it could be 180+ days away from home. Samuel was born and now I was starting to miss events. Of course, while there was always something to do, I was a lot more flexible and available when I was home and could be more focused on family. Still…
One night I was in a hotel room and had a dream. I knew it was a spiritual dream and that it had special meaning for me. In the dream, I was a traveling performer in a day before cars or vehicles. I carried my props and costumes in a wagon and would go from town to town performing shows. At one stop, three ‘people’ began to harass me. Two would get my attention doing one thing, while the third would get into my wagon and start taking props and costumes. I would run back to the wagon to salvage property only to be distracted by one of them while the other two were tossing props. I finally corralled my belongings and sent them on their way. But they laughed as they went down the road and they said, “We’ll be back. But next time, we’re taking your family.”
I woke up in a sweat. I knew immediately that the dream was significant and as I asked the Holy Spirit for interpretation I understood that I couldn’t be so wrapped up in ministry that I left my most important calling unattended. Before any other ministry, I was first a husband and then a father. If I lost my family while trying to save the world, I would be a dismal failure. Hopefully, that’s not the first time you’ve heard that message. The whole incident shook me and I asked God to keep me focused on what mattered most within His perfect plan. I knew that would mean restructuring my priorities.
The third thing that happened was divine intervention. A friend asked my oldest son and me to join him in the mountains for a camping trip with a couple of friends and their young boys. I love the outdoors and the mountains. But, honestly, it was such a hectic time that I didn’t know if I could fit it into my schedule. But, ‘the dream’ made me stop and rethink these types of opportunities. It eventually worked out and the six of us spent the weekend fishing, hiking, and being together in the mountains. It was life-giving and not just for me. I knew that it was important for Benjamin and me. My dad went to the mountains every year with other men. But, it was not something he included me in. I don’t know if I ever thought about that until right now. It’s not like I thought I was missing out on something. I didn’t like to hunt and he wasn’t that much fun to be with. Still, I understand now that it could have been something special.
The next year, we did it again, but this time, we added at least one maybe two or even three sons. And I didn’t hesitate when I was invited. It was something I looked forward to. And not just me. Ben wanted to go too. With all those boys around, we added some competitions and there was a fishing derby and a golf tournament. Oh boy! Now things were really getting exciting. Word spread and in the third year we had all of our boys and other men and their boys. The competitions were more structured. We had rules now! We started adding events. By the time Samuel was old enough to go, we were all in. That event became a staple on our fall schedule. Everyone looked forward to it and the weekend provided so many wonderful memories that we shared.
At some point, when the group was tipping the 50 people mark, I began to start thinking that what we were doing without intention, could be better done WITH some intention. The idea that culture had turned their backs on young boys and manhood was part of it. As a white, conservative, Christian, hetero-sexual male, I had been an enemy of the people my whole life. Everything that was role about society was my fault. Honestly, I was sick of hearing it. And now my boys were growing up in a culture that was growing even more hostile towards people like me. I wanted to be a part of something that affirmed manhood in boys. That could only happen in the company of men. Girls can arouse masculinity, but they can’t affirm it. And fellowship is vital for men. I began to understand (better) that what we were doing could be even more valuable if we took time to affirm the manhood process in our boys. Like the rituals of ancient cultures did with their young men. More aptly like boys became knights in medieval times. Today, the only place that even remotely affirms manhood is sports and the military; and the latter is in dire need of redirection. And so, we began to incorporate these ‘markers’ to put boys in the company of men and affirm these virtues and character attributes vital to a biblical definition of manhood.
My boys were part of this process from ages 5-20. We all look back on these times as integral to their personal and spiritual development. It wasn’t all it could have been and more random than not, but it served a purpose. I started off this section by saying it was divine intervention. By that, I mean I wasn’t looking for it. But God provided it and it was an important part of my boys (and me) learning what it meant to be men.
Since then, my oldest son has had two boys and I’m a “Pappy”. I wear it as a badge of honor. As I told my son, “I taught you how to be a dad. Now, I’m going to teach you how to be a grandpa.” Like a father figure, I didn’t have a good grandfather figure, either. They were both close and one was more available than the other, but it wasn’t something I’d lift up as a shining example of how to be a grandfather. But, I have intention, which can not be overemphasized. I have the Holy Spirit, which gives me hope that I can do it and do it well. And I have a wonderful son and daughter-in-law that allow me the privilege of being involved. And for now, they are close. Yippee.
So, we have a lot to cover. My thought is to provide you with a treatise on affirming boys in the journey towards manhood. It involves my intuition, theology, research, experiences, and ideas all of which I feel has become more valuable over time and are needed now more than ever to help young fathers raise sons according to the ‘way they should go’.
Let’s start with a problem statement. What is it that needs to be addressed? How about this:
Boys are failing as indicated through a variety of noted trends and statistics leading to a state of perpetual boyhood and the failure to mature into responsible biblical manhood.
The first thing, then, that must be addressed is a definition of manhood, masculinity, maleness and/or men. It is imperative that we define these things from a Judeo-Christian worldview. I have no interest in approaching this subject from any other viewpoint. The world is having plenty of problems with this already. As soon as you give up the moral absolutes of the Bible, you give yourself over to a blur of confusing narratives that have no basis for truth in them other than the subjective viewpoint of the person giving their opinion. During the recent senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee, Ketenji Brown Jackson, the justice would not (or could not) give the senators a definition of a woman, deferring to scientific experts. (As if most of the general populace couldn’t provide some kind of answer to that question and they are not scientists.) No. The world has no more to offer on this subject that won’t lead to greater confusion. Here then, is where we begin:
Male by God’s design Masculine by nature. Men through responsibility And Godly men by discipleship.
We are created male by God’s design. Gender is assigned and decided by God at birth. It is physiological and easily identifiable. God does not make mistakes.
We are masculine as a result of the chemicals released into our bodies in accordance with the DNA assigned at birth. This is primarily because of the increased levels of testosterone.
We become men by assuming the God-ordained responsibilities of providing, protecting, and presiding over any and all domains assigned to us. These responsibilities must be carried out with the same sacrificial love that Jesus Christ demonstrated throughout his life here on earth.
We become Godly men by being an apprentice or disciple of Jesus Christ and being transformed into His likeness through the Holy Spirit.
In the church age that has followed, Satan, our adversary and the enemy of God has continually attempted to thwart God’s plan for mankind to rule and reign (with God) forever. (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 20:4) As the end of time draws nearer, His attacks upon the saints of God have increased in fervor and intensity. His deception is the same as his original deception: “Did God Really Say That?” (Gen 3: 1) This deceptive, lying, misrepresentation of God’s purpose for mankind has resulted in the current confusion of gender identification, sexual orientations, and the God-ordained purposes for men. Satan’s deceptive strategy has resulted in gender confusion; role-reversals; toxic masculinity, effeminate masculinity, and the marginalization of godly manhood to the extreme fringe of society to the point that our boys are now demonized and demoralized. The destruction of the nuclear family has left them without father figures and male role models to lead them out of this dilemma and into biblical manhood. The portrayal of men by Hollywood, feminists, and politicians who play identity politics, have made them feel dangerous to themselves, their communities, and their cultures. Society is in desperate need of breaking these deadly cycles and restoring the place of men in culture according to God’s Word.
At some point in this book, we will make a scientific ‘pitch’ for the need to address this subject before it becomes worse and address why that matters. We will go over statistics on how our boys are failing in every imaginable way. We will build a case for the importance of addressing this issue based on trends and patterns and how they are affecting the fabric of our society. BUT…you already know this. Other books will discuss the science and the statistics and build the case based on research. We will include them in our bibliography and reference them throughout this book. This is NOT that book, however. This is a book to bridge the science with action and provide hope for the future of our boys. In a YouTube video entitled “Message to the Christian Church”, Jordan Peterson says that the time for the church to reach out and invite the young men back as active participants has never been more dire.
We must remind them who they are and call them back to a biblical mandate of responsibility.
“They have a woman to find, a garden to walk in, a family to nurture, an ark to build, a land to conquer, and a ladder to heaven to climb…” The failure of men to attain what they were created for will rain down upon women. “Anything that devastates young men will eventually devastate young woman.”
In other words, as men go, so goes the world. It’s time. It’s past time. Let’s get to it.
Our next Newsletter will detail the data to support our problem statement and the potential root causes as we see them.