The Sprituality of Men

Philip L. Culbertson, ed.
Fortress. 2002. 282 pp. Pb. $22. ISBN 0-8006-3447-0

— review by J. David Wiseman, Cary, N.C.

A story is told of several Americans traveling in Africa, who had hired a native guide to lead them up a mountain. As they climbed, the guide stopped for rest more frequently than the hikers desired. Growing impatient, one hiker finally posed the question, "Why are we stopping so often?" The wise guide responded, "We need to give our souls time to catch up with our bodies."

The Spirituality of Men, a collection of 16 thoughtful essays, provides a literary arena for men’s souls to catch up with their bodies while wrestling with masculine identity in a time of high-speed change within the church. Editor Philip L. Culbertson, an Episcopal priest, writes in his preface, “This volume is written for men smack in the midst of parish life, as well as for men in the margins of the church who still believe that men have a place in the church, but are not sure what kind of men they are supposed to be.”

But readers beware! This collection does not comfortably fit into the discussion of the Sunday men’s Bible class or a Promise Keepers fellowship. These essays invite lively dialogue outside the box of everyday church chat. For example, Mark Muesse, associate professor of religious studies at Rhodes College (Tenn.), urges his readers, “Don’t just do something, sit there!” He continues, “We do not do a very good job of equipping our boys to care for their souls. Is it any wonder that when they become men, they flee their souls? Sitting meditation can acquaint men with themselves.”

Brett Webb Mitchell, Presbyterian pastor and assistant professor at Duke Divinity School, examines the body of Christ from the point of view of men whose bodies are “differently abled”: one who is quadriplegic, one with AIDS and one with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Especially for men afflicted by rugged individualism, these three men model what faithful dependency upon Christ looks like.

David Livingston, assistant professor in religious studies at Mercyhurst College (Pa.), addresses the critical, pervasive issue of domestic violence, underscoring that the most painful form of violation is not experienced at the hands of one’s enemy, but at the hands of one’s intimate companion. He challenges the church to be boldly and compassionately attentive to both victims and abusers, being “respectful of the members . . . who are violating others, but never allow[ing] the respect for the violator to deny safety and respect for the victim.” A fuller treatment of this timely issue is Livingston’s sensitive and practical book, Healing Violent Men: A Model for Christian Communities.

Culbertson himself writes a compelling, even confrontational piece for male ministers about a vision of ministry born out of Philippians 2:5-8: “The kinetic God who empties self of power and privilege, seeking to know others by dwelling among them in solidarity with them.” Patriarchal pastors who retain their power through manipulation, domination and authoritarianism are sufficiently put on notice.

The contributors represent myriad men of faith: African-American, straight, gay, pastors, professors, psychotherapists; all Christians, each finding his voice to speak to “the men in the pew about masculine identity in a rapidly changing church.” This substantive, cutting-edge collection provides a context for men’s souls to catch up with their lives as they climb the holy mountain.