Today, on the Word on Fire blog, contributor Dave Brenner responds to a recent article about women outpacing men in education and the workplace, and urges his male contemporaries to "think different" when it comes to responsibilities to family, work and spirituality.
CNN posted an article last Wednesday called, “Why Men are in Trouble” which made many claims, the most bold being, “For the first time in history, women are better educated, more ambitious and arguably more successful than men.” The statistics are clear—women now surpass men almost 3:2 in college degrees and their pay is rising far more rapidly.
Neither the CNN article nor this blog is a tired male vs. female debate, though. Those statistics are not a problem by themselves—it’s a good thing that women have more opportunities and are striving to fulfill their calling in life. The issue is not that women are catching up but that men are falling behind. Let me summarize the facts briefly: More than ever before, men go to church less, connect less with their families, and have less ambition at work and in finding work.
We’re left with an image of a pack of large boys that are content to play video games, hang out with girls with the hope of hooking up, and avoid as much adult responsibility as possible. Hollywood gets this. They’re creating a rapidly growing genre of movies about the man-child: “Wedding Crashers,” “Old School,” “The Hangover,“ anything starring Seth Rogan, etc… We’re drifters without a cause.
Guys —what’s happening?
To further understand I began wondering which of these statistics about marriage, unemployment and church attendance are causing our decline, and which ones are symptoms of our decline. Do we lose hope and stop going to church because we’re unemployed OR do we stop going to church, which creates less channeled energy into work and relationships? It’s not an easy question to answer. Work, marriage and faith have always been mutually reinforcing elements.
I think the underlying factor is far more insidious than any of these single components. I wish we could fix the problem through focused efforts on driving church attendance or employment. At the most basic level, we’ve lost our way.
The big news story from the week, Steve Jobs’ death, provides an interesting juxtaposition to the malaise of men. What gives him the audacity to tell Apple, “We’re here to make a dent in the universe,” while most guys shirk challenges? The answer, I think, is that he had a sense of purpose and passion.
There’s the answer for men, especially Christian men: purpose and passion.
Purpose comes from a sense of calling, a sense that you were created to fulfill a unique mission that no one else can do. This calling is not an imposition, though it may appear that way, but a gift to be discovered. It comes from God but is already present in who you are. Thomas Merton had an acute sense of this: “Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”
Guys – when we choose to trust that we were created for a purpose, our decisions take on higher meaning. Everything we do, in matters small and big, lead us to or from the reason we were created.
Passion is created and sustained when you choose to find and fulfill your calling above all else. While one can easily create passion for pleasure, power, honor or wealth, that passion can neither be fulfilled nor sustained. But, if you’re in the game of following Christ through your calling, your passion is amplified. You become more truly yourself. “The glory of God is man fully alive,” says St Irenaeus. If you let yourself be a fool for Christ as St Francis was, you will literally change the world. Even Steve Jobs had the intuition that sustained passion and was an unbridled force for good. If you flex the imagination, you can think that one of his most famous TV ads was directed at us: “While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
Men – when we choose to find and fulfill our calling, we will be filled with passion that will change the world. Let’s make it happen.
Dave Brenner is a contributor to the Word on Fire blog and is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Chicago.