The Painted Men
The church can be a place for the life rituals we need but don't have.

"What's with the face paint?"

I got the question a dozen times from the men in my church. It was a Friday evening in spring. They stood around a fire, bemused and slightly nervous as I painted black and red stripes on their cheeks and noses.

"In some cultures," I said, "the men carve a scar in their arm for every man they kill. Some high school guys put a notch in their belt for every girl they sleep with. I'm putting a stripe on your face for every child you have." One color for children outside the womb, a different color for pre-borns.

Their expressions were not so nervous after that.

Most cultures worldwide practice rites-of-passage and coming of age rituals. The Bar Mitzvah. The Masai lion hunt. Poy Sang Long in Burma. The Hispanic Quinceañera. The Aboriginal walkabout. Sheijin Shiki in Japan. The Amish Rumspringa. A Native American vision quest. Vanuatu land diving. Hamar cow jumping. You get the point.

In America, though, the transition from child to adult is much more ambiguous. We recognize certain "rites," such as a first shave, getting the driver's license, our high school graduations, fraternity hazing, our "first" drink when we turn 21. But these are practiced inconsistently, and most are either not intentional or not edifying. Neither do they set up a boy's journey into manhood as a particularly sacred or honorable thing.

As a result of growing up in American culture, with rituals the way they are (or aren't), I now find myself married for almost five years, two months shy of my 30th birthday, expecting my first child in just over a month, working a full-time counseling job with benefits, and holding a masters degree. And most days I still feel like a kid. Put another way, I've worked hard to get where I am, but I still don't feel like I fit in with other grown-up men.

What happened to me? What is happening to boys in our nation who are expected to become "manly" men? Boys like me are raised, hopefully with a father figure, then pushed out into the world with the anomalous directive, "Be a man." We're not told clearly when we'll have achieved that goal. We're told in the most general terms what being a man is—strong, decisive, godly, head of the household, breadwinner. Then we suddenly find ourselves as fathers responsible for teaching our boys how to be men and our daughters how to be women. But we've barely figured it out ourselves.

Meanwhile, our non-Jesus-following brothers continue drinking and drugging and sleeping-around and hazing their way into adulthood.

May 09, 2013

Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments


May 13, 2013  7:04pm

Elegance You did not understand what I said, nor to you understand small groups of believers that meet in homes and the whole gathering is driven by the people, not from a few experts on a platform. From what you described, you do not understand every member koinonia function. Knowing names and faces and some social pleasantries is not it. Even having warm caring feelings towards others is not it. Unbelievers can do that. They cannot do the life of the body of Christ. The Lords Table has nothing to do with deacons. It has everything to do with every believer present being able to participate with personal expression about the cup and the bread and their meanings. I Cor. 10:16, 17 tells it is for the participation, sharing, and mutual expression of the whole body, not just a select few. If you have never heard a saint with cerebral palsy share about sharing in the suffering of Christ for the rest of his life, or never heard a child request that we sing Man of Sorrows what a name, for the Son of God who came; ruined sinners to reclaim, hallelujah what a savior, you are missing out on God's design for every member expression. Perhaps you are enjoying men's substituted designs which contradict what God has made us to be. Sitting in the same room and following behind the expression of a few up front may be enjoyable to yourself, but God does not rejoice in our substitutions. I used to be right where you are, but not any more. Men's traditions no longer blind me at these points. Do you consider yourself a believer designed and enabled by God to speak to the saints in your church about the cup and the bread? If not, what is the scriptural basis for your silence for the rest of your life with those whom God has supernaturally connected you? Rituals that have the backing of supernatural, inimate, mutual community are powerful. By themselves they are little different than those done by unbelivers for merely symbolic reasons. Groups that meet in homes have on percentage far more resources to help orphans and widows, and reach all nations because we don't consume 75 - 85% of the giving (normal church budgeting - check your church budget) to hire staff and build facilities for crowd oriented events.

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May 11, 2013  11:06am

Rhys Pasimio, here is a link to a church (not mine but I know the leadership quite well) that is thoroughly evangelical and also very oriented to ritual in the sense of 'boys to men'. They are the Knights Of The Green Cross. Tim, your description of the Lord's supper can be true or false, depending on the church and the hearts of those participating. My church has over 1,000 members (and amazingly, I know the majority of them though I am not clergy). I love our monthly ritual of the Lord's Supper. It is prepared and served by husband/wife deacon teams. These are couples who are voted into this Biblical office (Acts 6) by the congregation after being vetted by the church council. This is not their only church duty. They are responsible for some visitation to the sick and needy and must set a Godly example for living. What is interesting to me about the descriptions given in Acts 6 is that the reason for the office of Deacon being created in the first place was that the church was experiencing such phenomenal growth that concrete organization was necessary to keep things running smoothly. While the serving of the Lord's Supper was not the primary reason for creation of this office, but rather the distribution of food to widows and orphans, the following quote of the first seven verses (Phillips) paints an interesting picture of what was happening in a rapidly growing congregation and the solution that was decided on by the twelve apostles who simply didn't have the time to deal with this aspect of church: "About this time, when the number of disciples was continually increasing, the Greeks complained that in the daily distribution of food the Hebrew widows were being given preferential treatment. The twelve summoned the whole body of the disciples together and said, "It is not right that we should have to neglect preaching the Word of God in order to look after the accounts. You, our brothers, must look round and pick out from your number seven men of good reputation who are both practical and spiritually-minded and we will put them in charge of this matter. Then we shall devote ourselves whole-heartedly to prayer and the ministry of the Word." This brief speech met with unanimous approval and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochurus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch who had previously been a convert to the Jewish faith. They brought these men before the apostles, and they, after prayer, laid their hands upon them.So the Word of God gained more and more ground. The number of disciples in Jerusalem very greatly increased, while a considerable proportion of the priesthood accepted the faith." These kind of issues (the need to look after the accounts and taking care of the church's widows and orphans) doesn't happen in a 'house church'. It's not that a 'house church' can't be a group of believers, but for them to stay in the house (unless they are in China or under persecution, as will happen here at some point most likely) would imply that little, if any, real spiritual growth is taking place.

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May 10, 2013  5:01pm

"I want a ritual! I want a clear initiation into the community of Jesus-following-men.." I do also, but adding a ritual is of no effect if you have little or no community as Jesus and the NT define community. It's like the Lord's Table, a ritual about supernatural community that is displayed with almost zero koinonia in it's presentation, and in the whole gathering around it. It's all platform and expert driven with zero participation or heart expression from non-clergy men in the church except to pass out the elements. This reality is a sad picture of the whole shallow relational, largely non-mutual dynamic in American church life. I know the saints like the passivity and the clergy like the paycheck and dominate player status - but it's tragic if we want to be the body of Christ.

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May 10, 2013  9:26am

Sounds cathartic. And somewhat pagan. Or is this a Christian "laying on of hands" with facepaint? I do like the idea of commissioning men into their vocation as fathers.

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