(Twenty-second in a series.)
If you’re a woman, you know manhood is weird. If you’re a man, you think you are weird.
Pastors question our manhood. The French say there are three sexes: men, women, and clergymen. It’s hard to deny.
Before ordination, I’d never felt insecure about my manhood.
For a couple years I’d shoveled manure in a boarding stable.
I’d spent a summer cleaning motel bathrooms.
I’d worked on the railroad.
I’d fathered a child.
I’d lived in SoCal.
Then I began to pastor in Wisconsin and discovered farmers have no doubt they themselves are real men, and they also have no doubt their pastor’s a wus. They had little ways of showing and saying it, and it “made me angry” (if you know what I’m saying).
So of course, I set out to prove them wrong.
When a tornado blew through their fields, I was out there working as hard as any of them, picking up pieces of silo and combing fields for the scraps of sheet metal hundreds of yards from the outbuildings. I took the men and boys on canoe trips and arm wrestled all of them in the McDonalds on the way up to Minnesota. One of my elders was a farmer who regularly called me Monday mornings when I was still in bed. Mary Lee would bring me the phone and he’d say, “I hope I didn’t get you out of bed, pastor?”
My conscience still hurts over my usual lie: “No, I’m up; what’s up?”
One farmer had a hard-nosed father he could never please. In his late fifties with his father in his seventies, this man seemed to disdain my work ethic. He was That Guy who kidded you, saying “Must be nice only working one day a week.”
Don’t think he meant it, but I’d tell Mary Lee how angry I was over his disdain for my manhood. She’d say, “Forget it.”
Working alongside the men of the church, at first I could keep up with them, but a few years later my sedentary life had taken its toll.
One day Gale Neef invited me out to help put up hay. Arriving, I parked out front by the farmhouse, then walked to the back of the barn where Gale had the hay wagon pulled alongside the elevator. Soon the elevator was running and Gale was dropping bales onto it. I was at the top, taking them off and heaving them up to Craig Lowe in the hay mow, stacking. Then had given me the easiest job.
Killed myself trying to keep up, but for the first time in my life I couldn’t. I kept up for a while, but that day is burned into my brain as the first time I had to admit who I was—and who I wasn’t.
Not a farmer.
Signaling Gale to turn the elevator off, I admitted I was wupped and needed a break. I didn’t leave, but I did take a rest before helping again.
Gale and Craig didn’t need a rest. That was the main thing.
I was ashamed of myself.
Mary Lee told me I hadn’t failed. She was kind. Gale and Craig were kind. They didn’t rub it in or kid me later.
Still, this was the beginning of a decreasing that, since then, hasn’t stopped.
Truth is, I think it was good for me and do wish I had ceded the men of my church their own territory long before I did. If my elders questioned my manhood, wasn’t that their privilege? If God calls one man to study, pray, counsel, and preach, isn’t it fitting for him to be humbled by the physical superiority of his brothers in Christ whom God has called to lift and sweat and get up early for chores 365 days a year?
The question I had to face is what part of my pride I was willing to relinquish for the sake of helping my men to humble themselves under my preaching? Helping them lower themselves to receive God’s Word from this weakling’s mouth?
It was an important lesson I’ve often remembered. Pastors don’t lead because we’re the best at anything at all. Pastors lead because we’re called by God and gifted by the Holy Spirit.
So we should let our brothers be condescending toward our physical strength or manhood. We shouldn’t chafe at their making fun of us. Let them prove us inferior in putting up hay, playing basketball, fixing the church’s lawnmower, cleaning windows.
Well no, not fixing lawnmowers and cleaning windows. Gotta save some of my pride. Have some sympathy.
Point is, are we willing to show up for work and allow our weakness to be in full view in some things knowing our weakness in that thing will help our brothers submit to their inferior as he feeds them God’s Word?
Was Jesus the best carpenter ever? Did He arm wrestle his disciples to prove a point (I ask to my shame)? Did He have the best vocabulary? Were His rhetorical flourishes sophisticated? Had He gone to Yale? Was His wife pretty? Did He have eight sons? Were His children all above average? Was He the spokesman for Christian nationalism? Had He published a book on eschatology?
You know, all of us shout out what we take pride in.
What we must take pride in, though, is not hesitating to be faithful in saying every last thing the Holy Spirit tells us to say to God’s sheep.
At the Last Judgment when manly courage and manly faith are tallied up, we’ll all be jealous of that little man with bad eyesight named Paul. That man no one in Corinth thought much of.
If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. (2Corinthians 11:30)
(Twenty-second in a series.)
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