As a certifiable Trekkie (I have attended three Star Trek conventions and once forced my wife to make a stop in Vulcan, AB, so I could check out the Star Trek museum there), I get really excited when I come across a scene I can use in my work with teenagers. One such scene came from JJ Abrams 2009 Star Trek, when in the new, alternate timeline, Captain Christopher Pike has encountered a young James Kirk. This Kirk is different from the Kirk we knew in the 1960’s Star Trek, in the first seven Trek movies… this Kirk grew up without a father, and has spent his life wandering, aimlessly. He hasn’t even considered enlisting in Starfleet. The compilation of scenes which introduce Kirk in this movie present a man who has no respect for the rules, for authority; very little value for his own life; and who has just been beaten up pretty badly in a bar fight he started with four Starfleet cadets. In this moment, Captain Pike looks at Kirk and tells him the following:
If you’re half the man your father was, Jim, Starfleet could use you… your father was captain of a Starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives, including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.
Manhood doesn’t happen by accident. You see this in scripture, where time and time again patriarchs pull aside their sons and challenge them to be more… perhaps none as clearly as David’s words to his son, Solomon, from David’s deathbed:
“I am going the way of all mankind. Take courage and be a man.” -1 Kings 2:2
It is my belief that we live in a society where this dare is either falling on deaf ears, or isn’t being stated at all. There are cultures which have ceremonies by which boys are treated like men: taking on responsibility for the farm in an agricultural community, joining in the hunt for the first time, or the Jewish Bar Mitzvah. What all of these experiences have in common is that they give a boy a sense that he has been made for more than himself: he has duties and responsibilities to care for family, the greater community, and to God. In each of these scenarios: farming, hunting, or leading prayer, the passage to manhood correlates to those activities most valuable to each community.
I’ve asked some of my students what lets them know that they are now “men” in our North American culture… I am answered with blank stares. Digging a little deeper, they start talking about drivers licenses and the right to vote (which come with age) and about getting drunk and losing their virginity.
It makes for quite the contrast. Manhood as described above – in farming, hunting, or religious practice – all involve the acceptance of responsibility alongside the freedoms of adulthood. Manhood as described by my students seems to focus more on things which just “happen” to you (getting old enough to vote or take a drivers test) and self-centered experiences… excessive drinking and sexual activity without concern for the consequences. And in too many cases, this definition of manhood is coming cultural and media sources who show sexual and alcoholic excess as though it has no consequences (American Pie, anyone?)
In spite of this cultural trend, we’re also seeing a renaissance of superhero movies: The Dark Knight, The Amazing Spider-Man, the Avengers (and all the other Marvel movies that went along with it), Man of Steel – as though there’s that sense that we were all made for something more. Guys flock to these movies because it stirs something in their souls – the sense that they were, in fact, made for something more. That while we may not have super powers or buckets of money like Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark – we have within us the capability of doing so much more than getting drunk and sleeping around.
But as much as movies about Superheroes and warriors resonate with many, there are lots of guys I know who feel like they are made for more – but also feel like they aren’t cut out to fight great battles or “be the hero.” I’ve gotten to know my father-in-law who spent a lifetime working the farm – no great adventures or “heroic” battles – though I’d consider the way in which he has loved, served, and cared for his family to be very heroic. I’ve looked at my own dad – whose honesty and willingness to drop anything for those he loves.
And perhaps from these two contrasted examples, we can glean what real manhood is all about: real manhood is all about doing whatever is necessary to serve and care for those you love. There are times when it requires heroic, self-sacrificing deeds (as we see in these superhero movies), and there are times when it requires the ordinary service of washing the dishes or cleaning toilets to do your share for your family. There are moment where it is very exciting and moments where it may be quite painful. To look back at Kirk and Pike, this is what we saw in the second movie, where Pike has to admonish Kirk for ignoring the rules:
There’s greatness in you, but there’s not an ounce of humility. You think that you can’t make mistakes, but there’s going to come a moment when you realize you’re wrong about that, and you’re going to get yourself and everyone under your command killed.
The letter to the Hebrews tells us that “the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,” (Hebrews 12:6) and there is no question that there is a fatherly affection between Christopher Pike and James Kirk. Pike’s willingness to dare Kirk to be more in both movies become the key moments that help Kirk to realize what it takes to be a man: the willingness to do whatever is needed to love, serve, and when necessary, protect those whom He loves – even should it cost him his life. This is, after all, the kind of love with which Jesus has loved us. It requires of anyone who aspires to manhood a willingness to put his selfishness and self-centeredness aside for the needs of others – and it’s something everyone of us is capable of (and ought to aspire to).
Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. -John 15:13