(The London Free Press – Saturday, October 22, 1997)
WASHINGTON ✦ When experiencing the Promise Keepers sacred assembly with 100 local men and hundreds of thousands of others here earlier this month, I couldn’t help but think of growing up.
In row after never ending row, 23 blocks over the sunsplashed National Mall of the world’s most influential nation, we knelt. We laid prostrate. We wept. We stood as a sea of heads, stretched out hands and sang with every available breath.
The secret seems out. Something is jolting men across North America, even those of us without matching socks, so hard that we barely recognize Sunday ball games.
While our society seems to be running amok with children who have cut off their roots of family and mores, trivialized faith, and hidden under the skirts of victimization, some men are having an honest, naked look in the mirror.
Take the middle-aged white male, bent over in Washington, sobbing uncontrollably when hearing certain sins fired like cannonballs through the assembly’s many loudspeakers: “Denominationalism!” “Racism!” “Sexual sins!” “Abusing wives!” “Abandoning children!”
CNN missed it. The man wailed with each hit, like in the mythical land of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, when Eustace, a poor boy-turned-dragon, tried to undress and shed his scales, unsuccessfully, until the great Lion Aslan ripped him open.
The first tear was so deep the boy thought it went into his very heart, and when the majestic Aslan began pulling the boy’s skin off it hurt worse than anything he ever felt.
The only thing that made him able to bear it was the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. While several black men comforted this very real man in Washington, I watched, knowing if the line dividing good and evil cuts through every human heart, I too must allow a piece of myself to be destroyed.
A converted atheist, Lewis found the same. Jack, as his Oxford friends called him, “technically” married Joy Gresham, a divorced American with two boys, so she could acquire British status. No ring. No kiss.
Documents were signed with dry expression and cold signature. No one knew. The neighbors thought they were not married and up to all kinds of wickedness when they were actually married and up to nothing.
To all appearances, Lewis had it together as one of the brightest Christian thinkers of this century. Then he found he didn’t. He had a second life transformation and remarried Joy publicly.
Eventually he found himself kneeling at her bedside in tears, praying for forgiveness for loving her too much. His faith was then rocked when cancer finally took the life of the beautiful woman he first, in his foolishness, barely knew how to truly love.
Promise Keepers is leading men into a similar transformation.
The God of the Bible is consistently described as seeking a profoundly intimate relationship with his creation. He even calls himself a groom whose radiance cheers the entire wedding.
In the west, Christian men have reacted to this in various ways. While we may not have run screaming in the opposite direction, it hasn’t been hard to fall for a gospel of material gain and treat God like a back-pocket credit card buddy.
We’ve tended to keep both our faith and our struggles private, like the war correspondent writing from the safety of a hotel parlor.
Some of us have preferred the comfort of old vices, like a half-hearted child making mud pies in the slums, unable to imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. Others have needed redemption from even pretentious virtues.
Now, through Promise Keepers, many Christian men are seeking renewed faith identities and going all the way in a passionate union always meant to consist of more than mere technicalities.
We’re moving past spiritual beauty pageants into the irresistible and convicting joy Lewis eventually knew so well, the type of joy he said has that stab, that pang, the inconsolable longing.
Women have long lamented that men need to grow up. Men doing so by becoming more effective in their families and churches can only strengthen their communities and bring healing to our times.
Plato said a life not examined is not worth living. It’s a point Promise Keepers’ critics should also think about.
Anyone fearful this movement is a step back for women’s rights need not look further than Christ. He loved to break the patriarchal rules of his culture. He never mapped out any women’s sphere. He elevated women and joyfully included women in his own world.
Is any man as flawless? No. Is Jesus the ultimate promise keeper? Inasmuch as their men are servant-leaders, women will have holy hands taking them into the deep love they desire.
“Life has offered me two chances,” Lewis reflected. “The first was of boyhood, and safety. The second was of manhood, and the risk of suffering.”
On Nov. 22, 1963, the fateful day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Lewis also died, finally reunited with his beloved Joy. Prior to that day, he had listened to her words and, through his grief, took them to heart: “The pain now is part of the happiness later,” she said. “That’s the deal.”
That’s the promise.