Have yourself a very manly Christmas?

December 8th, 2015

Last week, the Diocese of Oxford published a blog post on how to make your Christmas services more “man-friendly” (the blog post has since been taken down, though you can read a point-by-point response to it on Jem Bloomfield’s blog). While it initially seemed like something from the satirical news website The Onion, the post was attempting to address a very real issue, namely that most people in the pews on any given Sunday are women and church attendance among men has declined. Over the Christmas holiday, people who might not usually darken the doors of a church on a Sunday morning will attend services with their families, making it a good time to reach out and show people what the church is about.

Some of the blog post’s suggestions were good for any service with a high percentage of visitors, like keeping the service close to an hour, for example. Christmas Eve is probably not the time for the preacher to pontificate at length on the theological intricacies of the incarnation. When writing my sermon for Christmas Eve, I remind myself that no one is really there to hear me but to hear again the story of Christ’s birth, sing beautiful carols and participate in the Eucharist. The liturgy and Scripture do the heavy theological lifting anyway.

But some of the other suggestions varied between baffling and insulting, including the suggestion to “employ masculine language and imagery” and “play a video clip from an action film as a metaphor.” Historically, the church has not had any trouble using masculine language and imagery. God is routinely referred to with masculine pronouns and as “Father,” and all of humankind is still called “mankind,” particularly in our older hymns.

A good chunk of the suggestions in the article end up forming a rather unflattering picture of men — that they are unable to sit still and focus for longer than an hour, can only be reached by appealing to sports and/or blood and violence and are disinterested in children. It promotes and perpetuates a very particular form of cultural masculinity, a form that I find not only insulting but also dangerous. The idea that there is a certain way that “real men” should act disregards the variety of ways that masculinity can be expressed. The patriarchal forces that are present in and shape our culture do real damage not only to women but also to men.

In our world today, there are men who are the primary caregivers of children, who do not hesitate to change a diaper or clean up the dishes. There are men who prefer going to the symphony to going to a football game. There are men who are sensitive and put off by blood, gore and violence. And there are women who enjoy sports, who are the primary wage-earners in their families and who despise cooking and cleaning. Every single one of these expressions of masculinity and femininity is valid and personal.

As for Christmas Eve, I plan on preaching the gospel, the good news for all people — male and female, adult and child, rich and poor — that God became human and dwelled among us. God entered a broken and fallen world and showed us that true power lies in peace and love, not violence and domination. The Messiah did not enter the world with pomp and circumstance befitting a king but as a vulnerable, seemingly illegitimate child in a manger. Maybe that doesn’t satisfy the desire for fireworks or adventure or blood and guts, but maybe that’s the point. The Good News comes quietly, in the form of women and children from an oppressed people in an occupied land. We pray and work for the day when all of the forces that distort the gospel, including the forces of the patriarchy, are put in subjection under Christ. Then we can all be truly free.

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