A Man
Overboard

 

 

 

An interview with John Eldredge


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 job.

According to John Eldredge, Wild at Heart author, we might want to focus a little attention on the functions of a man's heart.

"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 Sensibility."

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 love it."

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 be healed."

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 that?

"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 man."

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 woman-ness."

"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 Heart.

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 store.

"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 issues.

"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 mission."

This mytho-poetic Christian said his favorite poem is from Ezra Pound, written from the perspective of one of the men who followed Christ.

Ballad of the Goodly Fere

Ha' we lost the goodliest fere [mate] o' all

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 spears

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 John.

"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 us."

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 favorites:

Healing

I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.

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 redeeming.

"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 God."

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 their lives.

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 Ministries www.ransomedheart.com

© 2005 Reid Baer

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The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria Vanderbilt

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s 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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