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Over His dead body

by F. Earle Fox

see http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=19-05-022-f

Touchstone Magazine has published an article, "Over Our Dead Bodies" by Anthony Esolen which is a remarkable essay on manly Christian discipline. 

The first part might possibly overstate the "manliness" theme a bit, but the remainder superbly states the call on men as "dispensable" precisely in the sense that men are called in a distinctly masculine way to lay down their lives for the authority above them -- and, in the image of Jesus, for those under them. 

The pagan/secular worlds can render only a terribly distorted version of this, the "power struggle" in which such worlds are trapped, "might makes right", etc.  The political/military history of the world is replete with this perversion of life.  Yet, even there, at times, the righteousness of God can shine through when someone's spirit is open, often unknowing, to what God is doing. 

But when seen through the lens of the Son of God laying down His life at the feet of the Father -- for our sakes, masculinity takes on an astonishing meaning, which men would do well to notice, especially the "soft males" of Western Civ. of which Robert Bly writes in "Iron John", or Leon Podles in "The Church Impotent"

Many years go, I was standing in for absent clergy at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Darien, Connecticut, for a weekday Eucharist.  During the sermon I noted that Jesus stands astride our paths and says, "You can go to hell if you want, but it will be over my dead body."   I should have added that we go to heaven as well over Jesus' dead body -- because we all try hell first (as per C. S. Lewis's "The Great Divorce).  It seems so much easier and more natural. 

Esolen describes an abandoned Pennsylvania slate quarry near his home flooded by springs with clear water 200 feet deep, with high walls and no gently sloping beaches for easy entry or exit, all duly fenced off and posted.  But the young men of the neighborhood, of course, found it and used it for a swimming hole, and the high cliffs for jumping, and maybe diving.  And for painting their graffiti.  The derring do of the youth was, at least in part, their experience of yearning for something higher, something special, something to which to give their lives. 

We had a similar abandoned Pennsylvania quarry outside of Philadelphia on what was called the "Main Line", where we young men went swimming, jumping, and diving.  I do not recall graffiti painting, or hanging by ropes down the cliffs, but it was an adventure we felt worthy of the risks.  

Risks there are.  My brother and I used to go fishing on the Wolf River which flows through New London, Wisconsin, with our Uncle Monroe.  He was nicknamed Minnow because he was so good at catching the walleyes which ran up the river every spring to spawn, filling his freezer with enough to last til next season.  He also took us 'coon hunting.

One day when we were there, I was about 14 or so, Minnow got a call from the sheriff that someone had drowned in the Wolf River, and asked him to bring his boat to help drag the river.  Uncle Minnow asked if I would like to come along.  I did.  It was right in the area where we did a lot of our fishing.  

I was a bit surprised when my uncle gave me a hook to drag.  We dragged hooks up and down the river for some time, until I felt a snag on mine.  It was the body.  We pulled it up, and loaded it into an ambulance.  Or maybe a pickup truck.  The sheriff had the job of telling his wife and children. 

It seems right to include such reality checks when we raise the flag for masculine derring do, otherwise our praise for masculine virility can have a kind of cartoon effect where everyone gets beat up, but no one gets hurt.  Hurts there are. 

But the real test of masculinity is the spiritual warfare all around us.  We speak with rightful admiration of the "Great Generation" which left many of its members in graves across the sea.  But that same generation came home oblivious to the spiritual war which was raging in Western Civilization -- or, to be accurate, everywhere.  It seemed, I suppose, like they had "won" and could now relax. 

But all military war is just a subset of the universal spiritual war which will continue until Jesus returns.  There is no "relaxing" if we value our freedom, only vigilance.  But, at home, the clergy were just as oblivious.  With that kind of spiritual leadership, who can blame the military? 

Because Western manhood has lost touch with the real war, Western Civ. is losing that battle.  Satan has been marshalling a concerted attack on Biblically founded America right from the start.  And he is succeeding.  He has all but conquered Europe. 

Western Civ. is essentially and fundamentally Judeo-Christian Civ.  All that is unique to Western Civilization comes from Biblical culture, including science, due process in civil law, and freemarket economics, three of our defining Western characteristics.  But Christian men have alienated themselves as Christians from both science, politics, and ecomicis, and are thus waving rubber swords with their pants falling down around the knees -- if they are in the fray at all.  Christians have been run from the public arena -- where there has been, for at least a century, almost no serious Christian witness. 

In another sermon, several years before the one above, in my own St. Stephen's Church in East Haddam, Connecticut, I said that we are made to be spent, that God has plans for us, and we are to spend ourselves on those plans.  I do not recall any responses from the men, but one woman responded strongly, telling of some of her own adventures in serving the Lord. 

The masculine spirit longs for something to which he can give himself.  I saw a grade "B" movie about Richard the Lionhearted, when I was young.  It had one memorable scene which I have not forgotten.  A wounded warrior was looking out the window of a tower on the courtyard below as King Richard and his knights were riding out on some venture.  The knight expressed his yearning to be going with them.  The lady, in all too modern fashion, rebuked him, "That's all you men think about! Fighting!  Why do you want to go with him?"  To which the knight replied, "Because he's my king, that's wy."

That response makes only questionable sense as one surveys all the terrible things leaders have gotten us into.  But when spoken of Jesus, it makes perfect, almost blinding, sense. 

The early Christians won the Roman empire primarily because they had lost all fear of death.  They would not stop testifying to Jesus.  As Jesus had promised, they found the Kingdom of God, resurrection power, among themselves.  They kept their joy in the face of gladiators, wild beasts, and in the face of plagues.  They stayed in plague-filled cities when the pagans were deserting for survival, and ministered to their own and to the pagans as well.  Love your neighbor.  They were willing to be spent. 

There was no parallel to that kind of behavior in all of pagan history.  The pagans noticed this, and many concluded, "If having Jesus in your heart does that for you, I want Jesus." 

It is not that there are no such Christians today.  But we are not known for that kind of courage, especially we men.  Until we are willing to spend our lives, lay them down at a nod, to be dispensable in His service because He's our King, that's why! -- nothing much of significance will happen to resurrect Western Christendom or Western Civ.  We must say, following Jesus, that certain things will happen, or not happen, only over our dead bodies. 

The fate of Western Civilization rests on the choices men will make.  Are we willing that our blood be the seed of a renewed Western Christendom? 

See Biblical Sex & Gender Library

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