Re-Awakening the Social Consciousness of the Pulpit

There is an old folk tale that shares a story of an elephant taking a stroll one day. The elephant notices his friend, the hummingbird, on his back with his feet in the air.  The elephant asks him “what are you doing?”  "Oh," says the Hummingbird, "I heard that the sky was going to fall, so I decided I'd better get down here and put my feet up in the air so I'll be ready to hold it up when it falls." 

 "Oh, Hummingbird," he said, "you have to be the tiniest bird I know.  How in the world are you going to hold up the sky?"

The hummingbird looked up at her friend. "I didn't say I was going to do it all by myself," she said. "But I'm ready to do my part."

At that moment, the hummingbird challenged the social consciousness of what was happening in the world.  On the contrary, the elephant was unconscious to the issues occurring around him. But the hummingbird demonstrated the difference she could make if we all do our part.

Many people are unaware of social injustices within their community or the world around them, and have become complacent or uninterested in many of the social ills we face today. This is what it means to be socially unconscious.

In the early 1950’s and 60’s, the Roman Catholic Church was accredited with awakening the social consciousness of the communities they served through gospel messages from the pulpit.  This is where we first find the term Liberation Theology, which is an interpretation of Christian theology that emphasizes a concern for the liberation of the oppressed.

The concept was embraced by the African-American pulpit during the Civil Rights Movement, and was also called Black Theology.  Renowned pulpiteers such as James Cone, and the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were well known for paralleling the gospel message while galvanizing support to propel the Civil Rights Movement forward.

These were the hummingbirds that awakened the social consciousness of the elephants around them. Sadly, I’m disappointed to find a limited number of hummingbirds in the pulpit fighting for the rights of women within our communities.

Too often, I hear from congregants that domestic violence is not addressed, or even mentioned at their place of worship.  How can we ignore the fact that one out of four relationships are impacted by domestic violence?  How can we ignore that over 90 percent of domestic violence victims are female?  How can we ignore the number of women who die each day at the hands of someone who once said they loved them?  These women I’m speaking of are from all nationalities, religions, socioeconomic classes and races. 

Dustin Axe, a social justice activist, attributed social unconsciousness to our culture’s emphasis on individualism.  Consequently, it becomes easy to ignore social problems and the welfare of others when the primary concern is our own personal happiness.

I hear many resounding sermons through the airwaves of our televisions, radios and internet that lend to individual prosperity.  However, it seems as if even the pulpit has become socially unconscious to many of our societal ills.

The gospel message should arouse a great awakening within our communities that motivates everyone to develop a hummingbird mentality. When this happens, we can eradicate domestic violence not only in the faith community, but in all communities.

The faith community can, and should, play a major role in the prevention of all forms of violence against all women – we should be the moral voice of the community.  Additionally, there are many different areas within this effort where we should be in the forefront. 

1.      Collectively, we have an opportunity to develop and implement policies that do not condone violence against women in any form. 

2.      We have an opportunity to train individuals within the community to support victims of domestic and sexual violence without re-victimizing the victim, which lends to supporting individuals on their journey to healing and wholeness.

3.      Premarital counseling sessions provide a great opportunity for clergy to introduce these important issues, and could include respectful relationship segments.  Allowing couples to share their expectations of the relationship, and how their individual socialization will impact their lives moving forward, may be key in preventing domestic or sexual violence from ever taking place in their marriage.

4.      The faith community can set aside time within their youth groups to provide programming that would address some of the risk factors children and youth are exposed to early in life. This same programming could address risk factors that expose youth as victims, or perpetrators, of domestic and sexual violence. Programming for children could include teaching children to make positive choices with both their actions and their words. Furthermore, this programming should address bullying prevention, both cyber and physical. 

5.      Teen and youth programming can address the risks of teen dating violence.  Youth leaders could choose from the many resources that address red flags in abusive relationships, while providing classes on what healthy relationships look like.  A CALL TO MEN’s LIVERESPECT Curriculum is an excellent resource.  Abusive teen relationships are very prevalent within our society because of the lack of visibly positive relationships within our society, and our failure to teach respectful relationships.

The faith community is an ideal place to awaken the social consciousness of men.  National statistics reveal that more than 90 percent of domestic violence is perpetrated by men, but we know that all men are not abusers.  The problem has been the failure of good men to get involved, or play a role in ending violence against women.  Men of faith could serve as role models to boys, and lead the charge in developing young men of character. 

Men of faith should hold one another accountable, but more importantly, we should use our influence and our platforms to awaken the consciousness of other men within our communities.  We can’t change the world individually, but like the hummingbird, we can all play a role in ending violence and discrimination against all women and girls.

- Rev. Rickie Houston, A CALL TO MEN Trainer

 

Broken but Whole

As I write this I am feeling two very contradictory different things.  I am feeling broken, but I am also feeling whole.  A wise woman once told me that many things can be true at once and we can hold these truths at the very same time.  I am beginning to believe her. 

When people are hurt, physically or emotionally, we need to seek comfort, shelter, or safety.  Without the access to individuals or communities of care, we are susceptible to crumbling under the weight of pain.  We as human beings are built to connect with one another. When we experience intense pain, there is an inexplicable catharsis that occurs between people who have felt similar pain. It is within this space that the miracle of healing can occur. 

Unfortunately, under our current social conditioning – what we at A CALL TO MEN call the collective socialization of manhood, men are told to stand strong as individuals and be independent in their suffering.   Our manhood is, in part, defined by how "well" we handle pain by ourselves throughout our lives.  Men are celebrated for their ability to handle pain in solitary and suffer quietly.  When men endure pain by themselves, without help, relief, or support, we regard them as heroes.

The next generation of manhood can find a new way, a healthier way, a more humane way.  If we men continue to define ourselves by our ability to suffer quietly then we are only hurting ourselves.  The restrictions of our socialization cut us off from the single greatest source of healing available to us as humans – each other.  To suffer alone is to agonize aimlessly.  To suffer in the presence of others offers healing to yourself and to those who lend their ears to hear your pain.  Don't believe me?  Ask any long-standing member of an alcoholics anonymous group or member of wounded veterans group.  But I am not here to prove my point.  I am here to share my pain and my story in hopes that it helps you maneuver through yours.

I am going to get real with you – sharing how I am learning to navigate the treacherous waters of hurt.  I must be honest and authentic because that’s how we access ourselves and each other.  When I tell my truth, I show my vulnerability, which is off limits according to men’s socialization.  Men are socialized to be powerful and dominating, fearless and in control, strong and emotionless, and successful at any cost.  When my walls are down it allows others in to help.  So here goes.  

My pain has come in many forms as of late.  Recently I have felt shattered, broken to pieces.  Inside one month I have had my heart and my bones broken.  While my heart was freshly broken and my soul confused, I was thrown from a motor vehicle and had my bones crushed.  As I lay in an ambulance, drowning in agony and hurt I asked myself, how will I endure? The doctors told me surgery would fix my body, but I asked myself, what would heal my heart and soul?

Some of the things I deemed most precious had been stripped away in what felt like an instant, and I was left to figure out how to pick up the pieces.  How am I supposed to stand tall and move forward when the world around me feels so unsafe?  I found my answer in my manhood.

I have been on a journey of redefinition for quite some time. This journey has led me to build my manhood not by my ability to tolerate pain, but by my ability to connect and care when in pain.  I have spent years building lasting, loving connections with others through mutual trust, respect, and dignity.  I spent time making sure the people in my life felt safe, cared for, and loved. 

In the midst of my hurt, I remembered how I had loved, cared for, and treated my connections and I reached out hoping to receive that love in equal volume.  Once I asked for help, I received what can best be described as a flood of support.  People were willing to drop their lives to come make sure I felt safe and valued. There are no words to describe how supported I felt. While I am healing from multiple wounds, some that are guaranteed to mend in time and others that may last a lifetime, I remain confident because I discovered what I refer to as my healing network.  These are the people in my life who have shown me understanding, compassion, and empathy during the hardest time in my life.  It took courage to construct this network, but it was worth the effort, the vulnerability, and the emotional investment.

Because I have spent so much time redefining manhood to mean so much more than what the Man Box dictates I have been the beneficiary of an intimidating social experiment.  Deciding to reach for empathy, connection, and vulnerability as a man often comes with severe consequences from other men.  The consequences are usually invalidation, isolation, and rejection. This happens because acting in these ways is associated with femininity and weakness.  That’s what makes asking for help is so terrifying.  Men might be perceived as feminine and weak, and we have been taught there is nothing worse. Through this redefining process I have benefited not only from finding my healing network, but I have found myself.

I learned that when it feels like the ground under your feet might just sink and drag you into the abyss, there is a way out, a way to save yourself.  Nobody is going to force you to ask for help, only you can make that choice.  So be brave and ask for help, be vulnerable and reap the benefits. Let’s allow our definition of manhood to include the ability to reach out in a crisis and to reach back when someone else has extended their arms toward us. When we make that choice, we can feel broken but whole at the very same time.

Jay Taylor, A CALL TO MEN Trainer

Who’s in Your Pit Crew for Healthy Manhood?

Embracing a healthy manhood and working to end men’s violence against all women and girls requires men to understand what we’ve been taught about manhood, and how those often, rigid teachings can be repaired and expanded to include open expressions of emotion, the ability to ask for help, and investing in friendship and community.  Part of my work with A CALL TO MEN is helping men re-imagine our thoughts and ideas to match what is in our hearts – to unleash the joy, fear, sadness and love that has been caged in our “man box” shaped souls, hidden behind flashes of anger and repressed pain. 

Research by the Harvard School of Public Health found that those who suppress their emotions are one-third more likely to die prematurely than people who regularly express what they are feeling. Issues of rage, anxiety, depression and unhealthy coping mechanisms can manifest. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate is four times higher in men than in women. 

Data supporting the link between physical and mental health is abundant, which tell us that to be our authentic selves, we must consider the vessel which allows us to navigate this journey – our bodies. 

For many men, the last time we had a physical exam was in high school or upon entry into the military.  Rather than venture into a doctor's office for an exam to consult about an ache or pain, we revert to the programming we received as boys to "suck it up."  Or maybe we give it a deadline, like "if it still hurts in a month, then I'll get it checked out."  What if this was how we treated our cars?  Rather than get that clanking noise in the engine checked, you turn up the stereo to drowned the noise out! 

Men have been socialized not to ask for help, not to offer help and not to accept help.  Studies show that men who equate seeking assistance with weakness, or the appearance of not being able to handle their own problems, experience more soured relationships with their significant others, higher rates of debilitating illnesses and earlier death.

For men to continue the work A CALL TO MEN invites us to do, we need our heart, mind and body synced like a NASCAR pit crew; different specialized tasks aligned with the same goal to live a full and healthy life. I invite you to consider who you can add to your pit crew for healthy manhood:

·       Schedule an annual physical with a primary care physician and GO TO IT!  Make time to go see your doctor when you are sick or injured.

·       Collect stories about your male family members’ (father, brothers, grandfathers and uncles) health histories.  Some men never discuss their illnesses, such as testicular and prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction, and other intimate diagnosis.  For future generations, knowing our relatives experienced these illnesses can aide in prevention efforts.  In my own family, I discovered one uncle who died from cancer that originated in his prostate.  Early medical attention could have improved his outcome.  And after a conversation with my father, he shared about his recent experience with kidney stones and an enlarged prostate.  These stories help me narrate my family history during my annual physical.

·       Ask your barber to join your pit crew.  Barbers see areas of your neck and ears that rarely catch any looks.  Ask them to keep an eye on any dark spots or moles.  If they change shape, contact your primary care physician for a follow-up. 

·       Make time for an evening with friends.  Recent studies have identified maintaining relationships as a preventative measure for mental and physical health.  These get togethers can help to reduce stress and maintain bonds that will keep you connected to community to fight off loneliness.  

·       Read.  Exercising your mind will keep it strong, sharp and stimulated.  If you discover a family history of memory loss or something more severe, let your primary care physician know and together you can develop a plan. 

Not only do our loved ones deserve our best selves, but we men deserve health, happiness and authenticity. 

- Jeff Matsushita, A CALL TO MEN Trainer

We Build

I was on site the other day and the guys were up to their usual monkey business – ripping on each other, cracking jokes, making fun. A full day on a construction site can be hard, and crews keep spirits up with humor and teasing.

I spent just over 18 years on site. For the last seven years, I’ve worked on the project management side and have traded frozen toes for sleepless nights. I don’t come home with mortar in my pockets anymore. Now I have the privilege of waking up at three o'clock in the morning worried that the budget will run out before the flooring crew rolls up. Any way you look at it, construction comes with a helping of pain.

We take pride in being able to endure that pain. From hod carriers, to plumbers, to foremen, to superintendents, to developers; construction demands endurance.  We take materials and cut, shape, join and polish them into structures that people will live and work in. The tools are sharp. The conditions are inhospitable. The pressures are constant.

Construction sites are, for the most part, men’s spaces. That guy in the truck commercial with his tools, two-day beard and work coat – that is the guy I spend my days with.  There’s a camaraderie, a language and a socialization that comes with the work.  Every carpenter I know has been sent to fetch the “board stretcher” from the truck, only to sheepishly return empty handed, greeted by a crew howling with laughter.

We share something. We share an experience of building beautiful spaces from unshaped materials in the harshest of conditions.

We are also building something much more durable. Amidst the bricks and boards and witty banter, we are building men. More specifically; we are shaping manhood. This process of socialization happens on construction sites, and occurs every time and in every place we tell men and boys what it means to be a man. It begins when we are infants and by the time we are 10 years old, each of us is expected to have a nuanced understanding of what it means to be a “man.”

On job sites and off, men are socialized to define ourselves by devaluing women and girls.  We use gender-based attributes to bully and discriminate. The message couldn’t be more clear; men are strong which means women are weak. That is the message I was given the other day.

I arrived mid-morning, stepped out of my comfortable, heated truck in a freshly pressed shirt, and a guy on site called me a p***y.  I remember my days covered in dirt and mortar, with a smashed thumb and no feeling in my toes. From that place in the trenches, the relative comfort of project management is frustrating. The boss gets the credit while the crew suffers in the snow. It’s raw classism.

He was up to his elbows in dirt and rubble preparing to pour a new slab in an old adobe house, and he was calling me weak. He was making fun of me for having lost my calluses. He was questioning my manhood and elevating his own.

I looked at him and said with a big smile, “Thank you!” The whole crew laughed. “I take it as a compliment that you see me as strong as a woman. Bringing forth human life is a challenge no man is built for.” The shovels stopped scraping. The men were thinking. I heard one of them say to another, “I never thought about it that way… he’s kinda got a point…”

“One more thing,” I continued, “I am fine with you teasing and pushing on me. But don’t use that word or any other words that bring women and girls down. That doesn’t fly with me.”

Violence against women and girls is an epidemic in our country.  We get that, but what many men don’t always get is that the way we treat each other devalues women and creates a culture where violence against women and girls thrives. Calling another man a p***y is telling him he is weak, like a woman, and that being weak is bad.

Construction is hard, but it’s not proof of my manhood or anyone else’s. Plenty of structures have been built by women, trans gendered men and women, gender non-conforming and non-binary people.

When men associate weakness with less value and categorize women as weak by nature, not only do we hurt women, we limit ourselves.  There are times when I am weak. This does not take away from the days I have endured 15-degree weather putting shingles on a roof. Embracing those weak moments allows me to be whole.  Besides, I don’t want my manhood built on the back of someone else. 

One in every six American women are victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Men don’t rape for sexual gratification; they do it to exert power. They do it to “be strong.” They take away another person’s power to try and shore up their own.

These are complicated conversations to have on a job site.  The guys sometimes hear me and sometimes shake their heads.  Some are exploring their vulnerability and realizing that they lose nothing in the process. Some are holding on to rigid notions of manhood that research links to increased violence against women and girls. But overall, I see change.  It’s slow, but it is happening.

At A CALL TO MEN, we educate all men and boys about healthy, respectful manhood and its link to preventing violence against all women and girls. Not only will all women and girls become valued and safe, but all men will have the freedom to be their whole, authentic selves.

- Scott Davis, Trainer, A CALL TO MEN

 

Advancing the Conversation

January 2017

Boys from the JPaul Boit Boys High School in Eldoret Kenya

Boys from the JPaul Boit Boys High School in Eldoret Kenya

Welcome to the A CALL TO MEN blog!  This space is designed to lift up the stories and experiences of thought leaders, activists and others working to promote healthy, respectful manhood and prevent violence and discrimination against all women and girls.  We have one primary criteria – which we not only apply here, but in all spaces where you see or hear A CALL TO MEN – how are we advancing the conversation? 

We pose that same question to you.  How are you advancing the conversation about healthy, respectful manhood, and preventing violence and discrimination against all women and girls in your work and your circles?  Can you do more in 2017?  Is there a way we can support your efforts?

In a recent conversation, Tony Porter, the CEO and co-founder of A CALL TO MEN, spoke eloquently about dedicating your life to a cause you may not see solved in your lifetime.  Similarly, Gloria Steinem, an honorary member of A CALL TO MEN’s board of directors, reminded us not to worry about what all can be done, but simply to do all you can. 

This year, A CALL TO MEN will celebrate its 15th anniversary.  We are doing all we can to create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe.  We have a big agenda this year. 

On May 25, A CALL TO MEN will host its 2017 Gala.  The event will celebrate the organization’s 15th anniversary and will honor individuals who promote healthy, respectful manhood and prevent violence and discrimination against all women and girls.  This year we will honor:

·       Eve Ensler, playwright, performer and activist

·       Alan Gardner, senior vice president, human resources, Verizon Communications

·       Joe and Alice Torre, chairman and president, Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation

In September, A CALL TO MEN will bring its National Conference to Minneapolis, MN.  The conference will explore the Many Faces of Manhood.  A CALL TO MEN will convene influential and passionate voices to examine healthy, respectful manhood in athletics, education, incarceration, fatherhood, faith communities and around issues of gender. 

We are excited to continue A CALL TO MEN’s Global Initiative in Kenya, where the Jump Rope Association of Kenya is implementing our LIVERESPECT Coaching Healthy, Respectful Manhood Curriculum.  A CALL TO MEN’s Davi Mozie will be spending time with leaders in Kenya, furthering the message of healthy, respectful manhood and violence prevention. 

Throughout the year, A CALL TO MEN will be working in communities across the country hosting coaching events, training institutes, and working with high schools and colleges advancing the conversation about healthy, respectful manhood and preventing violence against all women and girls.  I hope you will join us.  Sign up for our emails at www.acalltomen.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter @acalltomen to see when we will be in your community. 

Here’s to 2017, and to working together to end the sexism and inequality that not only hurts women but prevents men from being their authentic selves.

 — Anna Marie Johnson Teague, Chief Communications Officer, A CALL TO MEN