Making Waves

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We Will Not Change A Thing If We Hide

It was a heart-breaking and dismal day in Folsom, California.  The temperature lingered in the fifties and the bittersweet and cool January afternoon culminated with a sky of green in memory of twelve-year-old Ronin Shimizu. Raj, a fellow Boy Scout, looked up at the green balloons (launched in memory of a friend’s passing) and exclaimed, “Hey Ronin … Don’t look now, but the impact, the waves of your impact across our city’s youth, the waves are just rippling across our schools.”

His life set forth a wave of acceptance, laughter, and compassion wherever he would go. In his death, his life rolled rapids of social media attention toward a problem that had to be talked about — gender stereotyping and bullying. He took his own life but his impact and message must live on.

The word rōnin literally means “wave man” — a free spirited samurai with no lord or master. At his celebration service earlier in the day, tides of intense sentiment filled the room from family, students, and friends packed in Lakeside Church. His best friend Haley shared: “He told me that one day, he’d make my wedding dress . . . but the world doesn’t get to see it now and I don’t get to see it.” He was a sensitive young man who always followed his heart and it was evident in the room by the many collaborated stories sharing Ronin’s affinity for creativity and love for the arts. He had a passion for fashion, shopping, theater, tap dancing, camping, rowing and cheerleading. Bullying and teasing followed him for years, leading his parents to move him from school after school across town, finally resorting to home school him in the vain attempt to outrun the taunting.

Why does a young man with a passion for the arts and cheering others on have to feel “unmanly” or “gay” if he dreams a different dream and follows his heart? As Christians, are we ready to ask the hard questions about masculinity and stereotypes or are we afraid to share our stories and talk about the delusions and the destruction?

I honestly believe that we MUST talk about it. We must share our stories, admit our shortcomings, and seek the transforming answers that will eventually bring hope and health to a generation of hurting young men. The church needs us to assess what constitutes true Biblical masculinity and our children need us to think it through. That’s what my book is about (www.notamalefail.com).

The facts are astounding. Official figures reveal that men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide and the numbers are increasing. There are several factors leading to this increase in suicide. There have been several societal changes over the last 50 years. One study stated that, “men in mid-life have seen their jobs, relationships and identity, radically altered. There is a large gap between the reality of life and the masculine ideal.” Older men and young men alike are attempting to find their place in the world. Carl Beech, director of Christian Vision for Men said that men “often have a particular resistance to expressing their feelings or asking for help — a false impression of what it means to be masculine.”

The word rōnin not only means “wave man,” it is also a native expression that means “wandering man” or someone who is without a home. How dispiritingly on target for the “Ronins” in our homes, schools and “pews.” The Mask You Live In filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom reminds us that, “At a young age, boys learn that to express compassion or empathy is to show weakness. They hear confusing messages that force them to repress their emotions, establish hierarchies, and constantly prove their masculinity.” “Our society’s failure to recognize and care for the social and emotional well-being of our boys contributes to a nation of young men who navigate adversity and conflict with an incomplete emotional skill set. Whether boys and later men have chosen to resist or conform to this masculine norm, there is loneliness, anxiety, and pain.”

In a world of bullied masculine ideals and expectations, the correct answer is not to “man up.” Yes, we do need a revival of men of conviction, strength, vision, and courage BUT we will not change a thing if we hide behind our own masks of togetherness and toughness. It might make some waves, but we have to have this talk.

Missed the masculinity & Christianity #GoodMenChat on February 25, 2015?
Check out the highlights HERE.

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