“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch; If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run - Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!”
Rudyard Kipling “If” (1896)
This selected stanza from Rudyard Kipling poem “If” has always been a favorite of mine. Kipling plots out the course of manhood with a lyrical list of rugged and manly strengths and virtues. Living as a Christian man is not always easy. We are called to live among the crowds, to keep our virtue, and confess the faith. We are called to walk in the light of the Gospel and yet keep the common touch of humility and love amongst God’s fellow creatures.
First off, there are a lot of really bad ideas out there about “manhood.” It may involve being popular with the girls, being exceptionally handsome, or having a nice car. Another common misconception of manhood is that it involves a displaying of power, prestige, and control. Certainly we hope that a Christian man is not at all defined by these things. So, how is he defined? What is an authentic “manhood” for a Christian? Is it to be a perfect disciple of Jesus who never breaks the law or swears, and has a perfect and “pure heart” for God?
Let’s face it, being a teenager or young man is not easy! We do not get away with as much as we used to. We have an increasing amount of responsibility with work, school, and extracurricular activities. More is expected of us from our families, our community, work, church, you name it! Young men soon feel the pressures of preparing for college, trade school, or plotting a life course. In the midst of our making plans for ourselves life will happen! As if we were in Kipling’s poem it will appear as though we have terribly missed the mark of an authentic manhood and sonship. It will seem to us that we have lost ourselves in the crowd, lost our virtue, and lost our way. Yet, before we consider Kipling’s affirmation of rugged and manly virtues, we ought to consider another author on manhood who has plenty to say – God himself.
Only one thing matters: to hear what the risen Lord Christ speaks to you. Resurrected from the grave, in which each and every sin was buried, being paid for by Christ, he speaks a single message: “Peace be with you!” God bursts into our lives as men and speaks to us as a man – in Jesus. His first and final word is a loving summons to freedom and life, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” (Gen. 2:16, Matt 26:26-28). And he does not call us out of life and the busyness of manhood but rather into it. Christ calls us into the freedom of living in community – in His Holy Church. Men are not created alone in isolation but are breathed into life along with all creatures. As Job says, “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love” (Job 10:11-12). In time, if it pleases God, He may grant wives to men that they may love and serve them as Christ serves the church, bringing forth new life in God’s creative work.
More than any other place the place of worship, the Divine Service, is where our manhood is spoken to us. The Divine Service opens in the name of the Triune God as we remember our baptisms into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Confessing sins among the faithful uncovers and exposes our sins that clouds man’s origin as being made in the very image of God. When the pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins,” your authentic manhood is spoken to you. Being baptized and forgiven in Jesus, your heavenly Father is speaking to you, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” (Mt. 3:17). Only in Christ’s speaking to us may we truly know ourselves as men and sons of glory. In this speaking our eyes are opened toward God in faith and we see our neighbor as one to whom we may serve in earnest love and charity.
Entering manhood is not marked and defined by rigorously attaining for ourselves the virtues of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.” Being a Christian man and understanding an authentic manhood is rather to be addressed by the living God who forms us from the dust of the ground and breathes the breath of life into our lungs. The virtues of manhood and divine sonship of the living God are granted to us purely as gifts through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
The world and popular culture will be sure to provide you with a different image of “manhood” and what it should be. Though it may be alluring to follow this image, behind its macho and attractive surface may lie the great deceiver – the old serpent. Therefore let us remain fixed on the image of Jesus who speaks His precious Gospel of forgiveness and feeds us heavenly food. And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!