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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Rites of Passage Roadmap – Liminal Space

As I’ve remarked before, our culture is severely lacking in clear rites of passage for our boys becoming men. This has (and has had) several detrimental consequences, chiefest of which might be a failure to fully grasp the responsibilities and requirements of men in a society as boys are taught what a man is by their peers, popular media, or by older males who happen to be in their lives. This type of education is rarely purposeful, prolongs adolescence, and has led many a male astray into that belief that manhood is the opposite of womanhood, when, in reality, manhood is the opposite of boyhood.What is the remedy, then, for this lack of knowledge about the mature masculine, about what a man truly is? I return to my original premise and thought that we must incorporate rites of passage for young males to welcome and initiate them into the realm of the mature masculine. As a short review, rites of passage to manhood generally incorporate a separation from the “old world”, the world of boyhood, a form of training by one or more elders in what the society or culture or family expects from someone wearing the mantle of man, and a celebratory return to the community to demonstrate that they can now expect a more mature level of behavior from the initiate.This post seeks to describe what that middle step might look like, knowing that the definition and expectations of men is quite wide. Additionally, it should be noted that much of what generally takes place in primitive and ancient rites of passage is intended for boys entering roles as hunters/gatherers/warriors; much of the physical abuse and punishment is no longer necessary.To fully examine this idea of liminal instruction, we must first delve into liminal space. In studies of rituals and rites of passage, van Gennep and Turner both offered the idea of liminal space as the middle period during a rite of passage. This period is one of great ambiguity, one that literally means threshold. In liminal space, everything an initiate knows is discarded or thrown on its head so that he might learn the new rites and requirements of his soon-to-come status in the tribe.

What goes on in liminal space?

In one word, education. Education on the various aspects, expectations, responsibilities, and (sometimes) rites of mature men. As I’ve pondered the distinctions between men and boys, they’ve led me to identify several marks of the mature masculine. We’ll deal with each of them in separate later posts, but I believe that they are the core of the education because they exemplify the expectations and responsibilities of mature men. They are: reverence, respect, responsibility, reach, relationship, reflection, and rationality. Each of these marks of the mature masculine serves a greater purpose in a man’s life and in the lives of those around him. How they are taught should be unique to both the initiate and the elders instructing him, but each should be taught as a separate thought, with connections forming between the four as they are learned.
Who teaches???????????????????????????????????????????
Elders. If you missed that, I’ll write it again – elders. Not males 2-3 years older, not peers, not movies or television. Elders, known to and respected by the initiate, must provide the teaching. They’ve been there. As elders, they also will be the first place society will look when a young male acts out. Thus, they should be placed to teach the requirements of the mature masculine as they will be holding that initiate accountable throughout his life. Finally, these are the men who will be “granting” the title of man to the initiate when he finishes the rite of passage. They must be involved.
Why must this learning happen in liminal space?
We’ve already examined the need to separate as the initial phase of the boys-to-men rite of passage. Liminal space serves as an extension of this separation, but also provides for instruction in an effective way. First, because of the separation, the initiate is prepared to learn in a distraction-free zone. This is highly important; given the distractions and mixed messages that are present in the general world, a space where he can learn and internalize the messages of initiation is important. Additionally, liminal space provides a private place for initiates to learn. Not everyone will be ready or able to learn the roles and responsibilities of manhood at the same age or time. Once in liminal space, the initiate knows that he is deemed ready by the elders, a very important discovery for young males transitioning to mature masculinity. Finally, liminal space gives a very different feel from general instruction, lending a more serious and deep tone to the messages. If the messages learned during liminal instruction truly are meant to guide a male into the mature masculine and lead his behaviors the rest of his life, then they should be conveyed in such a serious space.While each of the three steps of the rite of passage are essential, I believe the instruction that occurs in liminal space is what will define a man for his future. What he learns about himself and the roles and responsibilities of men will determine his beliefs and paths as he begins his journey in the land of the mature masculine. We must prepare him properly to navigate this.To providing education in the wild, to crafting liminal space for boys to learn from elder males about the role of men,
MD
 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Rites of Passage

 

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Weekend Words – Legacy

Everywhere I turned this week, I seemed to find calls or allusions to leading a life concerned with legacy. This week, my work revolved around recognizing fraternities and sororities with awards and around celebrating two of my sorority chapter’s 100-year anniversaries. Each of these occurrences gave me time to pause and consider the importance of legacy in a man’s life.

I think society is misleading men about their purpose and what a legacy truly is. A quote from Pleck and Sawyer in “Men and Masculinity”, remarking on what men are learning at the end of the lives, supports this thought – “Some of these advantaged men are finding that the traditional masculine pursuit of power, prestige, and profit will not fulfill their lives.” Whether we like it or accept it or not, as men, we are privileged, and are called to use that in a way to support others. That is where we will find fulfillment.

This weekend, my college’s president, speaking at a retirement celebration, remarked that “At the end of the day, you won’t be remembered by how much money you made or what car you drove, but by the people you touched.” This is so true.

Men are being sold a false bill of goods, a false set of expectations about what should matter in their lives. Watch even 15 minutes of television and you’ll see advertisements for the next great car, beer, or food item. Nothing about making a difference or touching the lives of someone. We are taught to be selfish, but the true mature masculine is selfless, focused on leaving behind a world better because he was a part of it.

What will your legacy be? Will it be something that can be destroyed in an instant, or will it live on in the lives of those you touched and in the very fabric of our society? Live your life as one focused on a lasting legacy.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Weekend Words

 

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Rites of Passage Roadmap – Separation

On a young male’s journey to the mature masculine, he should ideally pass through one, if not more, rites of passage. These rites of passage serve to delineate boyhood from manhood and should provide both a knowledge piece about the new role he will be taking in society and a celebratory piece to welcome him into his new role. In studying rites of passage, I have found that most sociologists and anthropologists mark three steps: separation, liminal space/training, and reintegration.

For young males, who learn very much through experiences, separation is a necessary component of a rite of passage, both symbolically and procedurally. Robert Bly, in his seminal work on the steps boys take to become men (“Iron John”), offers that a boy must separate from both his mother and his father before being able to learn more about himself and the world. In ancient and primitive tribal cultures, this is lived out in their rites of passage for young males.  The beginning of many of these rites, documented in “Betwixt and Between” and by Raphael, van Gennep, and Turner, is a separation from the females of the tribe. Male elders come in and snatch the boys away, oftentimes from the arms of their mothers, and take them to a segregated area, where they will learn in liminal space the secrets, rites/rituals, and responsibilities of the tribal males, before triumphantly returning to the tribe – men.

Why is this separation necessary? Why must the young males be separated from women? And, what can we do with this in our modern era, where there is little time for any prolonged sorts of teaching or rites of passage?

Separation is necessary

Separation is the bridge.

Ancient societies knew that manhood didn’t happen by itself. Older men actively intervened to “welcome the younger men into the ancient, mythologized, instinctive male world” (Bly, 15). Separation creates the space in which this can happen. Think about all of the distractions in the world that a young male faces; he must separate himself from those distractions in order to enter the next phase and learn about the responsibilities of the mature masculine. Separation also serves to delineate the beginning of a young male’s change into a man. We know that males learn through visible, tangible experiences. clearly defining the break between boyhood and manhood is key: this is started by the separation in a rite of passage. Separation is the only way for a male to bridge the gap into liminal space, into the process of learning about the mature masculine.

Male initiation is a male thing

Any psychologist who has studied Freud will share how mothers potentially gain a hold on their son’s psyche during adolescence. It is only natural, but it is something that the ancients and primitive tribes got right in recognizing that part of the separation must include a young male leaving his mother. Mothers are the caretakers but can be smothering as their sons strike out on their own and seek to learn more about their role as men. A male voice is needed, echoed in comments by initiators in tribes that “only men can initiate men, as only women can initiate women” (Bly, 16). The separation from women creates a space wherein responsible males can teach the young males their roles and responsibilities.

Note: I do recognize that there may be objection to older men teaching younger males about the roles/responsibilities of men, particularly around not wanting to enforce gendered behaviors. The older males must be responsible, must recognize that their masculinity is a gift and a privilege, one that cannot and should not be used to dominate or control those around them. Rather, the roles/responsibilities of men revolve around the DNA of masculinity – respect, reverence, responsibility, and reach. These are what must be taught, combined with a healthy understanding of the power that a male has and how he can responsibly use it.

Further note: Gordon Dalbey offers that “you don’t become a man simply by rejecting and breaking from your mother. The larger masculine – the father and the community of men – must be reckoned with, harkened unto, as well. Otherwise, an edge of resentment, even hostility, remains and focuses eventually on women” (Dalbey 2, 69-70).

Making time

We must make time for this if it is to have any affect. Young males are kept busy, but a weekend, scheduled properly, is more than enough time to separate, teach, and provide a celebratory welcome. Failing to take this time is more damaging than a missed weekend; missing the separation and the rite of passage means missing an entire life.

I believe it’s fitting to close with a modern example of what the separation could look like. In a modern vision of initiation, Gordon Dalbey, imagines this separation through a Christian lens in “Healing the Masculine Soul”:

One evening, after dinner, Dad gets up, mentioning casually that he’s going out for a few minutes. Outside, he drives to the church, where he’s met by the male elders and the other fathers of boys to be initiated. The men gather in the sanctuary to worship and rededicate their own manhood to God, praying that together they might be a fitting channel for the Father’s Spirit of manhood to each boy. …

All the men then drive together to the first boy’s house, and while a male pastor approaches the door, the men stand on the front lawn, singing old hymns from our Christian heritage.

The doorbell rings. The mother opens the door. Surprised to see the pastor and the men outside singing, she stands there, uncertain.

“We’ve come for Dan,” the pastor says.

“But … but what for?” she asks. “I didn’t know there was a youth group event tonight…”

“This is not for the youth group,” the pastor explains. “This is for the men.”

“Well, I … I don’t know,” the mother says, glancing uneasily at the men singing out front. “Actually, Danny’s father’s not home just now, so you’ll have to wait until…”

“What’s all that singing outside?” the boy calls out from the living room. “What’s going on?” He comes to the door, beside his mother. Seeing the men out front, the boy draws up, tense.

“We want you to come with us tonight, Dan,” the pastor tells him.

“Dan!” his father calls out from the group. …

“Dad!” the boy calls – still uneasy, but encouraged to see his father there.

“Come on out, Dan!” his father shouts. “Come out with us!”

The boy looks up at the minister, who nods – and waits. “But it’s cold outside,” the mother protests. “And Danny hasn’t finished his dessert…”

“I appreciate your concern,” the pastor says, then, turning to the boy, “You can go and get your coat. Your dad has already put together the clothes you’ll be needing.”

The boy hesitates, licking a trace of apple pie from his lips. “Come on, Dan!” his father shouts. “Let’s go!”

A pause… then, all at once, the boy spins on his heels and dashes to his bedroom, comes running back grasping his coat. As he steps out the front door, the pastor nods graciously to the mother and puts an arm around the boy. The two head out onto the lawn as a mighty chorus arises. [The group moves to call the next boy out.] (Dalbey, 37-40)

We must call our boys out; they must separate from their current boyhood if they are ever to become men. As men, this is our responsibility.

To separation, from a boyish past and future, and to a responsible mature masculinity.

MD
Resources:
Bly, R. (2004). Iron John: A book about men. Da Capo Press.
Dalbey, G. (2003). Healing the masculine soul: How God restores men to real manhood. Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Dalbey, G. (2011). Sons of the father: Healing the father-would in men today. Civitas Press.
 
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Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Rites of Passage

 

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