This is part of a discussion with The Idea Camp leading up to a conference in September to discuss Sex and the Church.  Feel free to check out other posts in this series.

The Disney Movie Mulan is a lot of fun and I’m all aboard for the great message this movie speaks except for one key musical sequence.  Besides the fact that it’s kind of campy and generally irritates my theatrical sensibilities I don’t like the message it sends.

“Be a man/ you must be swift as the coursing river/with all the force of a great typhoon/ all the strength of a raging fire/ mysterious as the dark side of the moon.”

Interesting side note, has anyone else noticed that the development of the masculine as a little-talked-about subject?

But really?  Swift as a river, strong as a forest fire and mysterious as darkness; is this what it means to be a man?  And don’t tell me that it’s just a cartoon, these are the things we teach our children and it shows up in every popular depiction of male heroes.  Batman,

Superman, Wolverine, Daredevil, The Incredible Hulk – these are all men who fit the stereotype of the strong and protective male and the not-always-successful relationships he has with women.  Not to mention the consistently militant attitude of all of these.

I could rant on and on about this but let me cut to the chase.

This particular topic hits very close to home for me.  In High School I liked art.  I liked books, and painting and sculpture, and theater and music and therefore (as a male living in Latin America at the time) I was tagged as gay.  Nevermind all the other psychological abuse I took from my classmates with no help or encouragement from my teachers, I was 17, trying to figure out who I was, and all I knew was that the things I loved were unacceptable for me to love.  My parents never knew I think.  I’m sure they suspected, but I managed to act reasonably well around them and they NEVER at any point suggested my interests were inappropriate.  Just my so-called friends did that.

So I decide that the only way to become a man is to follow in the footsteps of my heroes – men like King Arthur, The Silver Samurai, and Wolverine – and join the army.  Only I applied to the Naval Academy instead because my parents wanted me to go to college.

I dedicated two years and change of my life denying my interests and forcefully replacing them with sports, study (US Naval Academy is actually a pretty tough school), and physical exercise.   Because that was what men did.

So what did it mean for my manliness when I was rejected for asthma?  I was convinced that it meant I wasn’t a man, or ever would be.  And I didn’t like that feeling.  Still don’t.  Writing about it takes me back and I couldn’t care less about the rejection, God directed my steps very clearly from then to now, but there was a pain that my silver bullet to validation was spent, and had missed the mark.  I was not a soldier, and never would be, therefore I could never be a man.  So I employed the Ostrich Defense: pretend it’s a non-issue.

What does it matter if you’re a man or a woman, what kind of person are you?

But that doesn’t answer the question at hand: what does it mean to be a man?

It is a question that is wrapped up in the development of the individual identity in face of a larger community while fulfilling a specific role.  In other words, there’s a lot of baggage associated with that question, but here are some of the answers I’ve been able to find.

  • Men are not exclusively anything – 1 Cor 9:22 “I have become all things to all men.”
  • Men seek peace – Matt 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.”
  • Men Serve – Mark 9:35 “He must be the very last and servant of all.”

And that’s all I got.  Those are the only three that I can comfortably sit on.  How about it men?  Any additions?

For more on this topic click here.