Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book Review: Wild at Heart

The stack of books I'm trying to read is much larger than what my calendar allows for. When I do actually finish a book though, I want to use the blog to tell you what I thought about it. I'm happy to lend this or any other book in my library if you live near me and don't look like a hooligan.

*This is one of those book reviews that's also a jumping off point for my own thoughts*

A friend of mine gave me Wild at Heart to read, and the book was so darn good I ended up buying my own copy before I'd even finished it the first time. This is one of those proofs that "many elements of sanctification and of truth" are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church" (CCC 819). John Eldredge himself is a Christian, but he seems to have a bit of an anti-religion vibe to him, as gleaned from his website. He is the director of Ransomed Heart Ministries, a "fellowship devoted to helping people discover the heart of God" (from the back of the book).

If you had to categorize the book, it's a book about masculine spirituality, but really it's so much more than that. Much of contemporary Christian material geared towards men is designed to neuter and emasculate them. Modern Christianity tells men that their passion, their drive, and their ambition is bad, and so in order to be a good Christian you need to get rid of those things and pursue virtues like meekness, gentleness, and passivity (Indeed, they are virtues and Jesus used them when he needed to, but they're never an excuse not to act when action is called for). This message is subtly backed up by by emotive music and weak homilies found at most Christian gatherings. In the same vein, we've feminized Jesus himself. To demonstrate how we've feminized Jesus and Christianity, I want to offer a lengthy citation from a different book, one I've never been able to forget, called "Why Men Hate Going to Church":

"Our very definition of a 'good Christian' skews female. To  illustrate, take this pop quiz. Examine these two sets of values, and tell me: Which set better characterizes the value of Jesus Christ and his true disciples?
  • SET A
  • Competence
  • Power
  • Efficiency
  • Achievement
  • Skills
  • Proving oneself
  • Results
  • Accomplishment
  • Objects
  • Goal orientation
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Success
  • Competition
  • SET B
  • Love
  • Communication
  • Beauty
  • Relationships
  • Support
  • Helping
  • Nurturing
  • Feelings
  • Sharing
  • Relating
  • Community
  • Loving cooperation
  • Personal Expression
"Over the years, I have administered this quiz to thousands of people: men and women, Christians and non-Christians. More than 90 percent of the time, people choose Set B as the best representation of Christ and his values. You probably did too.

Now comes the fun part.

These two value-sets are plucked from the best-selling book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus...Set A represents the values common among men, while Set B represents the values common among women. This little quiz reveals a startling truth: most people think of Christ as having the values that come naturally to a woman."
So with contemporary Christianity having feminized our understanding of Christ and our understanding of a good Christian, John Eldredge realized we have a problem. Even in the Catholic Church, which is commonly accused of being male-dominated and hierarchical, the problem is the same. So Eldredge proposes something new, he proposes that how God made men is good, because the natural values and inclinations of men correspond to the values of God himself. Early on in Wild at Heart, Eldredge says, "We need permission. Permission to be what we are-men made in God's image. Permission to live from the heart and not from the list of 'should' and 'ought to' that has left so many of us tired and bored" (emphasis original).

Speaking directly to men, every one of us has a question that needs to be answered. "Am I really a man? Do I have what it takes?" Because of Adam's original failure and the wounds we receive throughout our lives, this question often goes unanswered or is answered in the negative. The sort of masculinity I'm talking about here isn't the kind of manliness that drinks beer, watches football, and hunts. That overly-macho man is usually just compensating for the wounds he's received elsewhere in his life. No, I'm talking about the manliness that knows what makes him come alive, that is driven to pursue a goal, whether that goal is to be star quarterback or first chair in the orchestra. Either one is true masculinity because it's what makes you come alive.

But through the trials of life, we often pick up the message that we're not really a man. We don't have what it takes. You're not good enough to be the QB. Playing an instrument is for wimps. Or to Christianize the failure: The desire to succeed, the desire to excel, those are bad. Meekness and passivity are what you should pursue.

But something about this doesn't sit right, because men were made to fight. Look at little boys on the playground, they'll turn anything into a pretend weapon. We are made to compete, to conquer, to vanquish the enemy. It's what Jesus did. He fought the enemy and he won. For us, the enemy is often our own weakness. We have to recognize the battle that is at hand, and we have to recognize what is at stake. The leader is Jesus Christ, the battle is against the Devil himself, who has infiltrated even to our own hearts, and what is at stake is all the souls entrusted to our care as fathers of families, in whatever form.

God didn't give us men wild hearts to be stumbling blocks for us. He didn't give us wild hearts so that we could suppress them. He gave us wild hearts so that we could fight for him and live like Him.

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