Gaining insight on blessings and affirmations from older cultures.
When does a boy become a man? Historically, for most cultures around the world, this was a question of utmost importance. The survival of the tribe depended on it. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, aunts, grandparents, sisters, and cousins all cared about this question. The tribe needed for boys to become men and paid attention to the transition. Everyone in the tribe could give you a definitive answer as to the specific time when a boy became a man. They would tell you that a boy became a man after he underwent his initiation process, plain and simple. Today, many older cultures still carry this understanding.
The clarity and efficiency with which older tribal cultures answer this question stands in stark contrast to our modern sensibilities. To us, manhood is an esoteric concept. At worst, we view it as an antiquated idea, subordinate to ultimate questions of paychecks and rent payments. At best, we view manhood as a goal to be pondered and striven for over decades, maybe a lifetime.
We tell our boys that manhood is connected with admirable traits like selflessness and service. However, that still does not provide any definitive guidance to a boy as to when he will actually become a man. If the answer lies in service, when does he serve enough to become a man? The absence of clarity results in a lingering insecurity for many boys that lasts well into adulthood.
This prolonged adolescence has a subtle yet powerful effect. It manifests in passivity, insecurity, narcissism, false confidence, addiction, and depression. Ultimately, it hinders the male from giving his life away in the service of others. The irony is that we withhold calling a boy a man until he shows that he is selfless, but the boy is hindered from becoming selfless until he believes he is a man.
Older cultures know this and that is why the elders lead their boys into manhood with a definitive blessing and pronouncement of manhood. They do not wait for the boy to prove that he has become a man or figure it out for himself. They know that is a losing cause. They understand manhood is a blessing to be bestowed. It is primarily a grace-based system rather than a works-based system.
The idea of receiving one’s identity through a blessing and pronouncement rather than a determined self-effort is seen frequently in scripture. Moses had done nothing to demonstrate his trustworthiness when God spoke through the burning bush and told him that he would lead the Israelites out of bondage. Saul certainly had not proven himself trustworthy when God pronounced him his chosen instrument to spread the Gospel. The model even applies to Jesus. At the very start of Jesus’ ministry, during his Baptism, the Spirit of God descended on him and declared “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17.
So what does all of this mean for us today? For one, we should learn from older cultures and guide our boys into manhood with clarity and confidence, leading with blessings and affirmations. This is a lot of what camp is about. Our Catalyst Program is even modeled to some degree after the old male initiation journey.
On a deeper level, we can take this lesson of leading with blessings and affirmations to all of our relationships. It is difficult because it runs very counter to our culture. It is difficult because it takes faith.
I practiced law in Atlanta five years before moving to Rockmont. Including law school and time as a paralegal before that, my journey as a full-time participant in the legal community lasted approximately 9 years. However, one of the most powerful moments on the journey came much earlier when my friend John Joseph told me that I would make a great attorney and asked if I had ever considered it. I had not. I realized I did not view myself as someone capable of that kind of career. However, John Joseph’s spark of belief lit a fire in me that continues to have huge implications for my life today.
We naturally want to see something come to fruition before we believe in it. We want for people to prove they are trustworthy before we trust them. However, the lesson from scripture and the ancients before us is that we have to turn this idea upside down. We have to believe it before we see it. If we can take the risk and lead with grace, calling out what is still unseen, we will experience the joy of being co-creators with God, initiating growth in those around us.
Josh Drexler, Associate Director