Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, part 1

It was the early 2000s, I was in college, and I rolled my eyes.

One of my friends – one among many, it seemed – was enthusiastically recommending John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. “Men have been captive to excessive feminizing and we need to break free,” he said, earnestly waving the book while he gestured. I sighed. I remembered the Promise Keepers men’s rallies filling up sports stadiums less than a decade earlier; it seemed like evangelical Christian men were pissed off and afraid of feminism, having a mid-life crisis (at whatever age they happened to be), or both. This John Wayne-styled, muscular brand of faith wasn’t for me – I was happy living my life as a quirky intellectual, leaving questions of “real manhood” to jocks questioning their place in a changing world.

A Promise Keepers Rally

Or so I thought.

Fast-forward about five years; I’m out of college, newly-married, and I encounter Richard Rohr, a sixty-something Franciscan friar, through my work with TheOOZE’s Soularize: Learning Party. He shares something fascinating, that I suppose I knew but never really thought about: Every traditional culture the world over has clear, powerful rites of passage that bring their boys to manhood – and we in the West do not. His Wild Man’s Journey (now From Wild Man to Wise Man) introduced me to the male archetypes of King, Warrior, Lover, and Magician, and the personality types and life-stages that are attracted to each. I wanted to undergo one of Richard’s carefully designed Illuman rites of passage to learn to access these archetypes more deeply, but I never did.

Advance the clock a couple more years; by the late 2000s my young family moves from my native Atlanta to Raleigh to help start an intentional community; it is in the process of disintegrating around us. I discover Tripp Lanier’s New Man Podcast (not to be confused with the Other Tripp’s awesome podcasts), a veritable potpourri of voices (both men and women) about what it means to live into a deep, powerful masculinity in the 21st-century. Through Tripp I’m introduced to David Deida, whose Way of the Superior Man is a powerful, controversial tome on masculine and feminine energies, and why a felt polarity between them is necessary for a fulfilled life between partners.

I also hear stories from the men of two organizations that will come to have a potent impact on my life: the ManKind Project (MKP) and the Authentic Man Program (AMP).

Christmas 2010: At my local Borders, mere months before its closing, I see a little pull-away ad for a “New Warrior Training Adventure” hosted by MKP at King’s Mountain State Park in North Carolina the following May. Language about warrior-training would have scared me away in my Wild at Heart-loathing days. (And to be fair: I have never, to this day, read Eldredge’s seminal work. I’ve read a couple of his other books, though, and have enjoyed them.) But understanding better the language of archetypes, and learning about the ManKind Project’s quarter-century reputation of helping men emerge into their freest, most integrated selves, I was intrigued. I ended up doing the NWTA in May of 2011 with a couple of trusted friends, and it was one of the scariest, most worthwhile weekends of my life.

I won’t say much about my NWTA here, since much of its impact is derived from the container of confidentiality that surrounds it. Suffice to say that it is every bit the initiation rite that Richard Rohr (and others, like Roberts Bly and Moore) propose. It was also infused with an edge of Jungian shadow work – using ritual and roleplay to help us face our scariest inner demons, the things we hide, deny, and repress. During my NWTA initiation, I came face to face with how much raw fear I’ve stored up in my life – and what depths of power I have to call upon. From my weekend, I joined an Igroup – short for integration group, a circle of men with whom I can share life, and practice the newfound communication skills I learned on the NWTA. This was a healing experience, after so many experiences with other men where I was either in competition or bracing for some kind of put-down. I gather with my Igroup circle of men to this day. Deeply knowing a group of trustworthy men who have my back as I have theirs has been slowly and consistently life-altering. (Wouldn’t it be awesome if church was like that??)

 

Real community, with real men, helping me become a better man – all the while respecting and loving the women in our lives. Who’d have thought such a thing was possible? I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to MKP.

And even so, I’ve sensed there is yet more for me to learn in my quest to become a whole, integrated man living out of my depths. This is where AMP came in.

Continued in Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, part 2.

Resources for your masculine – or feminine! – journey:

Authentic World: Co-ed trainings and intensives
Authentic Man Program – weekend events, on-demand courses, and coaching for exploring relationship excellence for men.
Authentic Woman Experience: Authentic World’s course by and for women

ManKind Project: New Warrior Training Adventure – initiation experience for men, held worldwide
ManKind Project: Find a Men’s Group – find open men’s groups worldwide, as well as those open to MKP-initiated men
Woman Within: MKP’s sister-organization leads initiations and has a global network of women’s circles.

11 Responses to Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, part 1

  1. agnosticpentecostal_dave August 6, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    yes.

  2. Bill Samuel August 6, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    I remain very disturbed at the manhood movement in its many forms. And I found the video disturbing. It seemed to me he was looking for a way to hold up aspects of himself that might not be so good.

    Aren’t we first of all children of God in human form? Shouldn’t we not be uniting with all our brothers and sisters, and not emphasizing gender as a point of division?

    I look at history, and I see certain views of masculinity causing enormous harm. It is the roots of these that all the various manhood movements seem to be lifting up.

    I look at Jesus, and I don’t see someone who exemplifies a classic masculine ideal. I see someone who was able to integrate various virtues, some of them which our culture tends to identify as masculine and some of them which our culture tends to identify as feminine. I read of early Quaker men write of the “tendering” process as Christ transformed them, and I think of the “nursing father” image in Numbers which seems jarring in our culture but expresses a truth about who we are to be as people transformed by God.

    I think a key error of the manhood movement may be in assuming that because something is a natural impulse of ours, it is therefore good and to be nurtured. I think scripture teaches that we have both bad and good impulses, and that we need Christ to discern this and hold up the good.

  3. Jonathan Brink August 6, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Mike, some of the roots of my work in Thrive came out of both MKP and Wild at Heart. (And for the record, I have read all of John’s works, and I think the core of his work is not about masculinity per se, but about working through the wound to discover the whole self that is already there. That is only possible by confronting our fear.) The process of protocols, container, authenticity, and just gathering together were huge in my life. We need spaces of honest work and reflection. But as we began to integrate Jesus into the mix, it became much more powerful. (Sozo is a good alternative to that, although we used Theophostic.)

  4. John Stonecypher (a.k.a., ShackBibleGuy) August 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    I have been both uplifted and let down by the Promise-Keepers idea and the Wild-at-Heart idea, and have sort of ignored gender issues for awhile now. But now I am finding new things worth thinking about, in the resources to which Mike is referring in this post. I am becoming convinced that gender is a real thing, grounded in the being of the God who is persons-in-communion, persons in the dynamic give-and-take (masc & fem?) of life. I am also thinking that our various hormones and body parts are real embodiments of those dynamics, which give us real and unique (and differentiated) access to those masculine and feminine energies. Or something like that. Still figuring this stuff out…

  5. journeyingrick August 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    mike – AMEN BROTHER. i went to promise keepers when i was new in ministry cuz everyone did and i was glad to hear about men working at committing to their families and integrity. it was also creepy, for me, because of its very strong evangelical/conservative/political overtones.
    i’ve been to and led countless men’s retreats and workshops because i knew something inside me longed for connections with men in spirituality and community.
    i went to wild at heart because some men were interested and wanted to go and i love the message of passionate living and reclaiming the developmental stages that help a man move from child to savage to mature man. it was also creepy, for me, because of its very strong foundationalist/spiritual-warfare theology.
    then i went on a Warrior weekend, six years ago this weekend, and it was an ABSOLUTE LIFE-SAVER for this man. i was afraid of men, afraid to trust men, afraid of my own anger and sadness, ashamed, wracked with guilt, and all that good american masculine stuff. i found my New Warrior Training Adventure and the I-Group work i have been part of for six years to be empowering, humbling, gentling. it’s not about being macho – quite the contrary. it’s about vulnerability in safe containers. and for me, it’s about following jesus – even though it’s not a christian thing. (all the better.)
    aho!

  6. Peter Walker March 21, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

    Dude, it’s crazy. I originally encounter you through the Emergent conversation, and after 7 or 8 years, got bored with it. For the last four months, I’ve been binging on Tripp Lannier podcasts, and decided to bring up The Mankind project with my counselor. He says, “have your heard of Mike Morrell?” It’s a small world.

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