So while i’m away at New Wine united, my Good friend Ian has stepped in so Life after darkness can have some content while i’m gone, please check out his blog Ardentword for more content like this, and some really great bible studies!
Recently I’ve been re-reading a book that I’m very fond of. It’s called The Bloke’s Bible, by Dave Hopwood. I must have been no older than 21 when I read it initially and at the time I mostly appreciated it for its humour, “blokey-ness”, and high readability. Reading it again at 27, no longer in the bubble of easy Undergraduate life, what really strikes me are its insights into the Christian walk as a modern-day man. There’s a certain melancholy about it; a gallows humour. This book isn’t written from the perspective of a paragon handing down wisdom, but rather that of a weary and stumbling saint retreating to his local for a respite.
The book contains the hap-hazard reflections of a man struggling with life and struggling with faith. Each Chapter relates an aspect of life and a particular scene in the Bible, with significant artistic licence in its interpretation by trying to relate to the men in the passage. How was Peter feeling after he went back to fishing in the days after the crucifixion? How did he relate to the men with him in the boat? Usually I hate frilly interpretations like The Message, but TBB hits a sweet spot. It’s not trying to be Scripture; it’s trying to relate to Scripture as a man, as an ordinary bloke might when he has known God for a long time.
There is no pretence to godliness but rather a simple and earthy account of a man’s failings, and his coming to God through the pages of his well-thumbed Bible whilst working his way through a pint. When the Bible is closed again and the pint finished, there has been no great revelation, no twelve-step programme to become a super-Christian, but something has happened nonetheless. A weary man has found comfort in spite of his troubles; the pint glass was not the only thing he was drinking from. He has struggled and failed and is full of guilt, but he comes to God all the same. One day he may be worn out, another sulking from a fight with the missus, another fuming about something at work, but as he sips his pint and engages with God there is a shift in perspective and he leaves differently. Perhaps not as a clapping and shouting triumphal charismatic, but as a man returning to the front line of life with new determination and enough faith to just about get through.
This may sound all very grim and cynical, but as a man I find something greatly encouraging and comforting amongst the melancholy trudgings of the protagonist. One reviewer on Amazon describes it as “Arriving at the pub after a long, wet walk”. And there I think is the appeal; something that we men hunger for yet do not often find is for a time satisfied by this book. There’s something visceral to it, something of joining together with other men, vicariously living those scenes in the Bible or relating to those times of struggle. I think there is something to be said about that. I’m not writing this as a book review, but rather using this book and my impressions of it as an indicator of something men are looking for in their walk as Christians. Something which, in my experience, is very hard to come by. It’s nothing exotic or esoteric; it’s really very simple. It is to be a man, and to be among men who are not afraid to be and to share who they are.
I’ve already implied that TBB doesn’t tend to offer solutions. It doesn’t tell you that men should be a certain way and should follow a few simple steps in order to meet that standard. It simply has an honest discussion with you; “We’re both men. We know how we are. We know how life can be. We both know that we have God on our side. What are you going to do about it?”
The scratch that TBB itches is the same thing that the protagonist is most lacking. He doesn’t have any close guy friends, he isn’t heavily involved in church, doesn’t have a “huddle group”. This is a man like many of us, who has grown cynical of church and its utter inability to engage and involve blokes. Sometimes they might offer us a monthly cooked breakfast if we’re lucky. We are not called to emulate the protagonist; though he displays great faithfulness and dogged determination, he also embodies our common weaknesses by which he imposes his own isolation. We see all this and I feel asked indirectly, “What are you going to do about it?”
I think TBB provides the first step on a greater journey. In its honesty it confronts us with our own yearnings and our own weaknesses and failings. It meets us where we are and assures us that God is still with us, that the Bible is full of men much like ourselves. Yet after reading it perhaps we feel that dissatisfaction many men feel all the more strongly; we long to be among other blokes who we can walk with in our faith. Every young Christian man I’ve spoken to has always responded positively to this sentiment. So what’s stopping us? What comes next?
Looking at my own life I realise that there are a handful of men who I’m on very good terms with, but as blokes are wont to do we contact each other irregularly and meet up even less, too busy caught up in our own business. I’m sure it’s the same for most guys. It would be a simple matter to send a message out inviting some guys round for a beer, or for a few pints at the pub. We all have the resources and manpower to start something if we have the will to.
I suppose, rounding up this post, my point is twofold. First, men are great at hiding their fears and pains, even from themselves. We will find ourselves much closer to God when we confront these issues honestly, and can take comfort in knowing that the men God used in the Bible were just like us, and were used all the same. Secondly, we all yearn to be in open community with other men. Judging from how Jesus operated with his Twelve I would say we are designed for it. Yet in our society such communities are scarce indeed, even moreso in church, mainly because of our stubborn self-sufficiency, pride and unwillingness to make ourselves vulnerable and “get the ball rolling”. Again the question rears its head – “What are you going to do about it?”
As a bloke speaking to other blokes, here is my humble suggestion on how we might go forward. As I’ve said, we all have friendships with other guys that we can cultivate. So let’s start there. It doesn’t have to be anything major – a beer here, a game of pool there – but let it be purposeful. See what they make of the idea of Christian men getting together to support one another. Maybe you can start inviting other guys along to hang out. Just those two steps, and we’re onto something – all it takes is a bit of will and a bit of courage to poke your head out of our usually isolated manly bubbles. Imagine how the Church might be if more men did that.