An interview with John
How many billions of nerve impulses must be
transmitted before a man's mind figures out the
mysteries of life? How many synaptic neurons will
fire before the brain gets it? How many advanced
degrees does he need in order to understand the
meaning of his own life? It should be no problem;
after all, men's brains are hard wired to
rationally see things - reason them out. And then
again, maybe we're using the wrong tool for the
According to John Eldredge, Wild
at Heart author, we might want to focus
a little attention on the functions of a man's
"We have to start with the heart," he began,
"whether we're after a mythic life, a poetic life,
a spiritual life, or a transcendent life, the heart
is the 'wellspring of life within you.'" [From
an ancient Hebrew proverb.]
Eldredge said most "modern enlightened men" live
by the Greek model of the personality which divides
the head (reason) and the heart (emotion).
"Your feelings from the heart are the most
profound, the deepest, the truest you," he said.
"The heart is the source of your memories, passions
and desires. It's where you do your life. I believe
there are universals written on the human heart.
And, what's so awesome about that is there are
particulars as well. You may love to write and
think, while another man loves to build and to
construct things. Another person loves to sing. The
uniqueness of the human heart helps us share the
essential universals between us. That's what makes
getting to know a person so fascinating."
Eldredge is a man's man who loves fly fishing,
mountain climbing, and exploring the waters of the
West in his canoe.
In his book, Eldredge quotes as liberally from
poets as he does prophets.
"The heart of a man is like deep water ..." -
Proverbs 20:5, New King James Version.
"I am not a mechanism ..." - D. H. Lawrence
The Christian tradition of patriarchy is
generally not welcome in "liberally educated"
circles. As a matter of fact, it's usually scorned.
In the "battle of the sexes," however, it looks
like women have finally won. But at what cost? We
no longer know what it means to be a man or a
woman. Eldredge's work brings a clear perspective
to the gender role confusion.
"We all process the same spirit, but do it
differently," he explained. "Men and women are
fundamentally different from a theological
perspective or a neurological construction of the
brain. Science and experience tell us to look at
the core desires of a man's heart vs a woman's
heart. A man desires a great battle to fight with
his warrior within. That energy is not universal to
women, but it is to men. While women want to be
pursued. Every woman wants to be fought for. Look
at films that men like and women like: men love
Braveheart, Gladiator, and Lord of the Rings. Men
tend to like the Aragorn figure, while women are
drawn to Arwen. Women want to be the beauty. Not
every man wants to be the beauty. When she was
little she dressed up in twirling skirts. Women
love Titanic, Sleepless in Seattle, and Sense and
Too much stereotyping for you? What's it going
to hurt if we revert back to some old fashioned
roles for men and women? Do you think what we've
got now is working?!
"What is it with women and plants?" he
continues. "My wife loves plants. I think it's that
'life thing' that women have. That might not be
politically correct to talk about women as a group.
But I ask, 'has the current model been helpful?'
And I respond, 'it has not been helpful.' Aristotle
was great, but if you want to know the 'Good' you
have to look at the conditions under which human
beings flourish. In the motivation for equality, we
don't have to make everything the same to make it
of equal value. The value of human life is
universal, but it doesn't mean that all people have
to act and talk the same."
"Just look at the conditions under which women
flourish; women are wired to be a responder, a dear
friend. She is a competition ballroom dancer who
loves following his lead. She becomes more
beautiful as she does. A woman who is ridged and
controlling tends to be unhappy. When she has all
the control is she happy? The proof is in the
pudding; look at sexuality. Unless the man rises to
the occasion, nothing happens; and not just
physiologically. She is the responder, but only if
she has a man in her life who is offering her a
kind strength and not an abusive strength. She will
It's undeniable that the current matriarchal
model has left men in a moist, passive place. "The
old patriarchy is dead," many say, "long live the
new matriarchy." Is anybody else yearning for some
of the good old days?
"When men go passive something is wrong,"
Eldredge noted. "We see it in the home, workplace,
with friendships and anywhere a man goes passive,
things go badly. The construct of where it comes
from is fear. When men are under the influence of
fear, they go passive. When woman are under the
influence of fear, she goes controlling. And thus
is the situation in America."
C'mon, men. You know in your heart that Eldredge
is doing a reality check, here. It may not come
with the bend over backwards accommodation to the
soft ways of thinking, but he's on to something
that we've lost as men in our culture.
"I think a woman's deepest fear is abandonment,"
he said. "After interviewing thousands of women
I've discovered that a man's deepest fear is
failure. So when a woman attacks a man's masculine
strength, she brings about his worst fear. Now he
withdraws. He backfires, and his wounded heart must
I, myself, recently felt the power that comes
from a broken heart and the moving spirit that can
enter into a man's soul on a ManKind training.
Every man carries a wounded heart in search of
healing. So how does Eldredge propose we do
"Men ask the basic question 'do I have what it
takes?' As practical men, we ask ourselves the
question, 'what works?' What helps move a man from
passive self-indulgence to something far more
strong, noble and true? The answer we've found is
that you have to help heal the wounded heart."
Wild at Heart perfectly blends Christianity and
the mytho-poetic movement in the essence and power
of the image found in "Father."
"Asking the question 'do I have what it takes'
was supposed to be answered by the father.
Unfortunately, 'do I have what it takes' has been
answered by our culture in crippling ways. The
answer is almost always 'no.' And 'yes' comes with
massive conditions - 'yes' if you go into business;
'yes' if you become a doctor; but that's not what's
written in their heart. The boy needs to know from
his father that he has what it takes. If a man does
not have that one question answered deeply and
affirmatively, it cripples him the rest of his
life. His relationships with men end up driven.
He's a guy with huge tires on his truck but never
takes it off road. I'm for guys with 4-wheel drive
trucks if they use it, but not if they only strut
and posture because they're terrified of being a
Eldredge used an example from the journals of
men during the civil war. Military captains
reported that strutting, posturing-type bullies are
in fact cowards in a real battle. They become
timid, weak, and paralyzed.
"God wants to answer the question 'do I have
what it takes' to be a man. A Heavenly Father wants
to answer it personally for everyone, answer it in
a particular way to each man. A man's validation
cannot be generic. It is a man's core desire to
have a personal soulful answer from a masculine
God. It's a train wreck if a man takes his deepest
questions to a woman for answers. It never works.
He's got to get his masculine heart back before he
can accomplish anything else. He needs to sort out
all his relationships, his place in the world, the
work he was meant to do to find his calling."
Eldredge finds himself in good company with the
likes of Warren Farrell (The Myth of Male Power) in
rejecting what constitutes masculine vs feminine
qualities in a person.
"I don't buy that men have a feminine side and
women have a masculine side," he insisted. "Maybe
this is just a choice of words, but I don't think
that kindness is the feminine side of a man.
Kindness is the masculine side of a man's strength
too. In our work [Ransomed Heart
Ministries] we talk about qualities of kindness
and mercies. We talk about a tender strength. Men
that have been at war tell me it is so much easier
to get in the cockpit of an F16 and fly off the
deck of a carrier than go in and talk to his wife.
An immense courage of masculine strength is needed
to interact in relationships. Men can get confused
talking about their feminine side. I think men need
to embrace their man-ness and women their
"The problem with men, we are told, is that they
don't know how to keep their promises, be spiritual
leaders, talk to their wives, or raise their
children. But, if they will try real hard they can
reach the lofty summit of becoming ... a nice guy.
That's what we hold up as models of Christian
maturity: Really Nice Guys." Quoted from Wild at
What or who got John Eldredge into the heart of
his own man-ness?
"Brent Curtis, with whom I had my first
counseling practice, was killed in a climbing
accident. That event changed my life. There's
something powerful in the friendship of a real man.
The second thing that helped me was finding
honesty. I lost my ability to bullshit. I call it
integrity. I can't live that other life anymore.
Gerard Manly Hopkins, a Jesuit Priest said, 'What I
do is me, for this I came.'"
Eldredge said he had lived too much of his life
"wounded, fearful, and looking to a woman for
validation." And, like Dante's journey, he "awoke
in a real world." One fateful day a friend asked
him what he sought after when he went into a book
"I was working in politics at the time, so I
wasn't interested in reading anymore about that,"
he recalled. "I remember answering him that I was
drawn to books on the heart and soul."
That moment of realization motivated Eldredge to
get a graduate degree in counseling. He said he
wanted to "work at the level of the heart."
Eventually, he narrowed his work to men's
"I love women," he declared, "but my primary
calling is for men. That's where my greatest
passions lies - where I am the most fierce. Men's
work is what brings out the greatest fierceness in
me. It's where I get the closest to my calling, my
This mytho-poetic Christian said his favorite
poem is from Ezra Pound, written from the
perspective of one of the men who followed
Ballad of the Goodly Fere
Ha' we lost the goodliest fere [mate] o'
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O'ships and the open sea.
When they came wi' a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see,
"First let these go!" quo' our Goodly Fere,
"Or I'll see ye damned," says he.
Aye he sent us out through the crossed high
And the scorn of his laugh rang free,
"Why took ye not me when I walked about
Alone in the town?" says he.
Oh we drunk his "hale" in the good red wine
When we last made company,
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere
But a man o'men was he.
I ha' seen him drive a hundred men
Wi' a bundle o' cords swung free,
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury
I ha' seen him cow a thousand men
On the hills o' Galilee,
They wined as he walked out calm between,
Wi' his eyes like the grey o' the sea,
Like the sea that brooks no voyaging
With the winds unleashed and free,
Like the sea that he cowed at Genseret
Wi' twey words spoke' suddenly.
A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea,
If they think they ha' slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.
Eldredge's Christ is no passive "capon priest
... no pale-faced altar boy with his hair parted in
the middle, speaking softly, avoiding
confrontation, who at last gets himself killed
because he has no way out. He works with wood,
commands the loyalty of dockworkers. He is the Lord
of hosts, the captain of angel armies. And when
Christ returns, he will be at the head of a
dreadful company, mounted on a white horse, with a
double-edged sword, his robe dipped in blood. Now
that sounds a lot more like William Wallace than it
does Mother Teresa. No question about it, there is
something fierce in the heart of God." Quoting from
Wild at Heart.
The author said he believes the qualities of God
are found within the archetypal energies of lover,
warrior, priest and king.
" ... that's what Jesus is really like," he
continued. "Where else is the inspiration? I have
to talk about Jesus. It was the recovery of a
masculine identity in Jesus that was essential in
my growth, because if a man is going to get his
questions answered from God, then he better be a
masculine source. Only masculinity can bestow
masculinity. If there is no warrior energy, then
the question cannot be answered. That describes
well how I see Christ, how I experience him. The
words of a powerful masculine Christ mean more to
me than the gentle words of Mr. Rogers."
Eldredge referenced the moment in the New
Testament where Christ is baptized by his cousin
"As Christ comes out of the water, His Father
speaks validation. His voice ripped away the
religious drapery and the Father said, 'Jesus, you
are the real deal. You have what it takes.' And
this is right at the moment Christ is about to
launch into his mission. When we show that image to
men, they see that God will speak to them the same
way. We are sons of God and He will validate
Like the parable of the Ten Virgins, Wild at
Heart is really directed more toward helping men
with a Christian background than as a proselytizing
tool to non-Christians.
"I think I've been honest - but not too hard -
on the modern church," he said. "I think I've been
very kind, actually. I don't want to bash the
church, I want to help the people."
Eldredge said his book Waking The Dead
promises to be even more "challenging" to the
current Christian church.
"My observation is that most men do not believe
that spirituality is masculine," he added. "We do
not have real men leading the church. We gotta help
men get their hearts back. It involves repentance,
it involves healing and validation."
D.H. Lawrence talks about a "difficult
repentance" in his poem - one of my personal
I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various
And it is not because the mechanism is working
wrongly, that I am ill. I am ill because of wounds
to the soul, to the deep emotional self and the
wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only
time can help and patience, and a certain difficult
repentance, long, difficult repentance, realization
of life's mistakes, and the freeing oneself from
the endless repetition of the mistake which mankind
at large has chosen to sanctify.
Eldredge said "repentance" is a word worth
"There's such importance in the word. Repentance
is crucial to a person's life; it helps a man own
up to wrong doing, things he's said and done, and
turn from it. We don't want to turn to a victim
mentality. We don't want to encourage that kind of
passivity at its worst."
Regarding men's addictions, Eldredge said the
moralistic idea of repentance doesn't work.
"So many men are bitterly frustrated with
addictions," he continued. "They have tried mere
will power, and then they feel even more
emasculated because they haven't beat it."
Eldredge said he "appreciated" the 12-step
program while stating that there was a downside to
creating an "identity of an addict."
"It's not the core identity of a man to be an
addict," he explained. "To own being an addict can
also be about making an agreement with the
addiction. You're not an addict, you are a child of
Eldredge has his own children, three boys. He
said he has learned as much about the masculine
nature from them as he has anywhere.
"When winter fails to provide an adequate snow
base, my boys bring their sleds in the house and
ride them down the stairs. Just the other day, my
wife found them with a rope out their second-story
bedroom window, preparing to rappel down the side
of the house. The recipe for fun is pretty simple
raising boys: Add to any activity an element of
danger, stir in a little exploration, add a dash of
destruction, and you've got yourself a winner."
Quoted from Wild at Heart.
Eldredge said he tries to focus on the childlike
qualities of his boys by being passionate, shedding
his light, and being open hearted.
For me, when I think about what it means to be
open hearted, I think of the analogy of asking what
salt tastes like - you either know or you don't.
Men who open their hearts to other men know
something more profound and more meaningful in
Eldredge said his mission in life is to "hold
God in his countenance and help other men have a
healing encounter with the living God."
I think the mytho-poetic movement can share in
that kind of vision.
Eldredge ended our discussion by way of offering
a gift to men.
"Bless you and all the men out there living with
a wounded heart. The terrific news is that you can
receive from God what you never received from your
own father - and it will change everything."
For More Info Regarding Ransomed Heart
© 2005 Reid Baer
* * *
The fame you earn has a different taste from the
fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria
Reid Baer, an
award-winning playwright for A Lyons
Tale is also a newspaper journalist, a poet
with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide,
and a novelist with his first book released this
month entitled Kill
The Story. Baer has been
a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and
currently edits The New Warrior Journal for
The ManKind Project www.mkp.org
He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife
Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.
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