A meeting of men

A friend of mine suggested the other day that I write about the men’s
group I’m in. “Women would like to know something like that is going
on,” she said. Another woman friend put it more bluntly: “It gives
women hope.”

The group has been meeting every Thursday evening at a church in
suburban Atlanta for the past eight years. Our focus is personal and
spiritual growth, but we are not a Bible study group, nor are we
governed by church doctrine. (It helps that the church where we meet is
a Unity church, an institution that goes light on dogma and ritual.)
Also, we do not beat on drums – although we haves a majestic council
drum acquired by one of our members in New Mexico — we do not paint
our bodies, dance around fires, invoke Robert Bly or restrict ourselves
to “men’s issues.”

Rather, we gather to sort out the complexities of everyday life and
regain our focus as husbands and lovers, fathers and sons, brothers,
colleagues, sinners…men. Our role models, of course, were our fathers,
most of whom grew up in the John Wayne generation. Men who, for the
most part, didn’t talk about their feelings, were not openly
affectionate and grew up in a world governed by a paradigm that was
hierarchical, male-dominated, competitive, defensive and grounded in
fear.

What we’re doing is not criticism of our fathers – they did the best
they could – so much as it is learning from their mistakes and building
on the good things they gave us.

We have had close to 75 men attend at one time or another over the
years. Some came once and never returned. Some stayed a month, six
months, a year, and moved on. Some came when things were good and left
when they went bad. Others came when things were bad and left when it
was good again – the former usually coinciding with losing a woman and
the latter when finding another.

A few times the group was so large – 22 on one occasion – that we
divided it in two. We have a core of about a dozen men, and average
seven to nine per meeting, a size that encourages openness and
intimacy. Our youngest member is 38; the oldest is 76 (and recently
re-married), and we get occasional cameo vists from a vigorous chap of
89.

We have two rules. One: what is said there stays there. This is
essential when asking men to forego a lifetime of programming, drop
their armor and speak from the heart. Even at that, it’s not easy. Most
of us spend a lot of meetings snorkeling – paddling around on the
surface, getting our faces wet but unwilling to go deep. But the months
and years of shared history – not just at meetings, but at coffee or
dinner, at golf or a party, at weddings and funerals – have created a
feeling that the Hawaiians call ohana…family.

In that setting there is understanding, compassion, acceptance, a sense
of belonging and security that is hard to find anywhere else.

The other rule is that we speak from experience. No opinions, no
advice, no stories. Everyone has opinions and advice, but what carries
real weight is the experience of someone who’s been there. On one
occasion, one of the guys had tears in his eyes as he described his
difficulties with relationships. As most women know, when there’s a
problem, men think they’re supposed to fix it. But often all a woman
wants is to be heard.

Nobody tried to fix the problem that night. Instead, each man – there
were nine or ten – spoke about his own experience with relationships,
and the effect was remarkable.
It was as if each contributed a piece to a puzzle, and when the meeting
was over the puzzle was complete – a mosaic that left our friend
glowing with astonishment.

Rubbing his forehead, he said, “That was amazing!”

One of the keys to the group’s longevity has been keeping it from being
hijacked by those (there have been a few) who tried to reshape the
group to fit their own agenda. Great things happen sometimes, but we
are not a therapy group.
Ultimately, what we’re doing is redefining, in a spiritual context,
what it means to be a man. This being the 21st century, that’s not such
a bad thing. It’s about time for a paradigm based on cooperation,
equality, truth, understanding and love.

If you’d like to respond to this blog, please click
below where it says “Post a Comment.” To contact me directly, send an
email to  jc@johnchristensenonline.com.

6 thoughts on “A meeting of men

  1. Nick Degner

    Seekers. That is what I call the men. People that beleive in their hearts that things may not be the way the want them but there is hope that they could change. Themselves and the world. One self at a time.
    Keep seeking my friend.

    Reply
  2. John Christensen

    Thanks for the encouragement, Nick. We are seekers, but I hope it goes beyond that. A few years ago, Edwene Gaines — a fundraiser for Unity churches — said, “We’ve got enough seekers. We need some finders.”

    I agree with her. I’ve been doing this work long enough now that I think it’s time to prove that this work of personal/spiritual growth is not just a lot of wishful thinking.

    I’m not saying I’m there, mind you, but I think it’s important to start acting like I know what I’m doing. That is, that I’m creating my reality rather than just responding to circumstances.

    Otherwise, I’m afraid it looks like I’m just whistling past the graveyard.

    Reply
  3. Nick Degner

    There are plenty of people out there that have already “found it”. They are the people who try to tell you there is only one way to do things and they continue to blame their unhappiness on others. They usually have trouble releasing the suction off the coach.

    Seekers are people who strive forward. Sure they have found a few bits and pieces of spiritual resolvideness (if that is a word) but they continue to look towards a better way of living. They are action people, They tend to be more open minded than the average boob tube watcher. They definitely take responsibility for their future. Seekers seek the truth.

    Reply
  4. John Christensen

    I think we’re saying the same thing, but in different terminology. The people you’re talking about who’ve “found it” are, in my experience, fearful, rigid people and are not really finders at all.

    And I think you could use finder to describe what you call a seeker. A qualified finder, to be sure, but a finder in the same way that sunrise hints at what full daylight will be like. What I meant, and what I think Edwene Gaines meant, was that we need some full-daylight finders.

    There are some around, to be sure. Deepak Chopra comes to mind. But he’s like a shooting star; he makes it look easy. Most of us, as you say, have more of a struggle. A small victory here, a step back there, a minor victory there, etc.

    I think it’s time to take the emphasis off the struggle (I’m talking to myself here) and be more mindful and appreciative of what I’ve gained. I mean being grateful, seeing the abundance, the fullness, the positive change.

    Start thinking that way, shoot, next thing you know you might find you’re a full-daylight finder. Something to aim for, anyway….

    Thanks for the great feedback, Nick, and for making me think this through more thoroughly.

    Reply
  5. Nick Degner

    I am not familiar with the Daylight finder concept.

    I am assuming it has something to do with finders of enlightenment but I could be way off.
    Enlightenment seems to be a moving target. There is not way to tell is someone has gotten it or just “thinks” he has gotten. Over time I tend to recognize it more in others if I spend time with them, but my “enlightenment meter” is not always accurate. I do like to hang with people where these concepts are at least in the realm of conversation.

    Reply
  6. John Christensen

    “Full-daylight finder” was a bit of linguistic license on my part. I was playing off the use of the sunrise metaphor earlier, and the idea of moving from glimmers of the truth to actually living it.

    And “upon further review,” as they say in the NFL, I think it’s probably more like the cliche about succcess being a journey, not a destination. Or, perhaps,it’s rather like an Easter egg hunt. You keep finding eggs, but the hunt continues.

    It feels a bit presumptuous to be speculating about all this when it is exactly that: speculation. Still, I have the impression that as we understand what our truth is and live it, we grow and progress.

    That is, we peel away what is old and no longer of use, and operate from a clearer and more expansive understanding. My impression is we’ve got a long way to go, but that we also have the reassurance that we’re on the right track.

    One of the keys is, as you put it, hanging out with people who are also committed to the process. And a curious corollary is that it also becomes necessary to part with those who don’t share those values.

    In both my personal life and my career over the past six months I’ve had to do just that. And the separation in my personal life was particularly painful and difficult.

    But in both cases, things had come to a point where being around them was intolerable. This is not to say that these were bad people, just that our states of mind were so different that it felt as if there was an invisible force pushing us apart.

    If it weren’t for the company of like-minded people like you, these past six months would have been far more difficult. But rather than thinking so much about what was lost, I’ve seen again and again what I’ve gained by associating with people who are upbeat and open to possibilities.

    Reply

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