Today is Valentine’s Day. And Ash Wednesday. The seeming contradiction between a day centered around chocolate hearts and sentimental messages of romantic love and a day dedicated to reminding us that we are all going to die is not lost on those of us who aspire to be both loving spouses and faithful Christians. (Of course, the fact that the original St. Valentine remembered by the holiday that bears his name was beaten and then decapitated for attempting to convert the emperor Claudius to Christianity in 269 AD probably brings the two remembrances closer than most people think.)
I really wish Hallmark had had the foresight to create a line of Ash Valentine’s Day cards. Maybe something like:
Roses are red,
People are dust.
Repent from your sins,
Lest your soul become rust.
Okay, so romantic poetry isn’t really my thing. The point is that for most people, the ideas of love and death seem mutually exclusive. When we are buying flowers and preparing for a romantic evening, we don’t want to be reminded of our ultimate mortality. We certainly don’t want be told to “give things up” on a day that has become synonymous with personal indulgence.
I would suggest, however, that the seeming disconnect between Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday is due to a fundamental understanding of both, and that seeing the connections between the two will ultimately end up making both days more meaningful.
The basic premise behind the phrase is that masculinity, taken to its natural conclusion, inexorably leads to boorish behavior and the systematic subjugation of the disenfranchised in general and women in particular. It is implied (or occasionally overtly stated) that it is only by eschewing normal male behavior and intentionally becoming more feminine that men can move forward and bring an end to societal ills.
It is important to acknowledge up front that the issues being raised by those condemning “toxic masculinity” are real. The constant revelations of sexual manipulation of men from different arenas and across the ideological spectrum are deeply disturbing, and the ferreting out of such behaviors—especially when those acting abhorrently are in positions of power—is a major step in the right direction.
But masculinity is not the problem, and the solution to what ails the culture requires men acting more like the men they were created to be, and not less.
One of the (few) good things about being unemployed is that you are afforded a certain flexibility in your schedule that wasn’t available when you were working a 9 to 5 job. In the last several months, I have taken the opportunity to do things like get back into shape, catch up on some reading that has been stacking up on my nightstand, and to spend some more time with the kids during the daylight hours. It has also afforded me the chance to do a little refocusing on what is important, and to do some self-evaluation that I have too often tried to avoid.
For the last couple of weeks, I have initiated the habit of spending an hour or so at a local park for some daily devotional time. The routine usually entails me setting up camp at a picnic table overlooking a creek, reading from a daily devotional and Scripture, and spending some time seeking God’s guidance through prayer.
But a good deal of the time spent is me simply looking out on my surroundings, appreciating God’s creation. And the more time I spend looking out at what’s around me, the more I find that God is revealing Himself to me—sometimes in unexpected ways.
When I was young, my parents gave me a Dr. Seuss book entitled My Book About Me. In typical Seussian fashion, the book pairs simple rhyming patterns with some fill-in-the-blanks, enabling the book’s owner to create a sort of time capsule, revealing the likes, dislikes, and insights of a six-year-old mind.
I still have the book, and I recently pulled it out of my collected effects to do a little reminiscing. There weren’t any major revelations—I was a serious football fan (alas, I still am); my eating habits were apparently more porcine than avian (hopefully that has improved); my “best friend” was Essex Johnson (read here for that sad tale); and apparently I had a severe aversion to salad that I have largely overcome.* Oh, and I wanted a bear as a pet.
The following is a continuation of an ongoing email discussion between my cousin Mark (semi-reluctant Trump supporter) and me (unabashed Trump basher). (For part one of the discourse, click here.) In this week’s installment, we delve deeper into the repetition of past failures of the Republican Party, and the general competence of one Donald Trump to serve as chief executive of the United States.
Mark (via email, 6/29/16)
Where to begin? Well, let me start here. I’m just happy that I can have this discussion with you, and that we can share our viewpoints. It rarely happens anymore. In fact, I think it is part of the reason for the fractures we are seeing in races around the globe, elections around the globe, and in the two major parties here. Let’s start with that.
As we approach the presidential elections, much (okay, pretty much all) of the conversation has centered on the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Conservatives in particular have struggled with their opinions about and obligation to their party’s candidate. Some of us (and I am on record as being a part of this camp) find the candidate so reprehensible that we cannot and will not, with good conscience, cast a vote on his behalf. Others, while less than enthralled with the idea of a Trump presidency, see the alternative of President Hilary Clinton as significantly worse, and are willing to hold their nose and vote along the party line. Still others are excited about having an outsider candidate crashing the party and shaking things up a bit, and are looking forward to voting for Trump in November.
Recently, I started a conversation with my cousin Mark (technically, second cousin, but we’re all family) about the merits and demerits of Donald Trump, with Mark voicing the “pro” side (with significant reservation) and me the “con.” This started on Facebook (in the comments of another family member’s post), migrated to email, and now—with Mark’s permission—is being shared here for the world to see. I thank Mark for his willingness to share this conversation, and for proving that there is still room for discourse even when opinions diverge.
I want to offer a short tribute to my wife’s grandfather, Ralph Friedrich, who passed away last week at the age of 97.
My remembrances of Grandpa Friedrich are limited, having come into the family at such a late point in time. My earliest memories are of a man much younger than his accrued years, who drove himself from Michigan to DC at the age of 90 to attend his beloved granddaughter’s wedding. A man with a quick wit and a sparkle in his eye, always with a smile on his face and a story to tell.
Shortly after that wedding, Grandpa suffered a stroke that took away much of his independence. Yet while his ability to move around was reduced and his speech became more and more labored, the twinkle never left his eye.
Three years ago, we were blessed to be able to take the kids (well, the three of them that were around at the time) out to Michigan to introduce them to their great grandfather. And while Grandpa struggled to speak, his eyes told the story of a man content with a life well lived, and a legacy that would continue well after he had left this world for the next.