Interview with Gareth Brandt Author of “Under Construction”

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In my humble opinion the bookUnder Construction: Re-framing Men’s Spirituality is one of the more important books on the subject of male spirituality to be written in the past decade.  Cause, well, frankly there is not really anything out there like it.  It is firmly grounded in Anabaptism.  So, when I had the opportunity to ask Gareth a few questions about the book and the process of writing it I naturally jumped at the chance.  A big thank you to Gareth for taking the time to answer them… even though I tried to prompt him to give away a big chunk of the book Winking smile.

1. With so many books on men’s spirituality hitting the shelves in the last few years why did you feel compelled to write a book on men’s spirituality?

Well, basically because I read about a dozen of them one year when I was on sabbatical and most of them made me feel like a complete loser of a man and so I had to write one myself that made me feel better J. I actually did not feel compelled to write a book. I was on a quest to find myself as a middle aged man [see below]. More officially, I think there was need for an alternative voice in this genre. I wanted the main metaphor for men’s spirituality to be a constructive [craftsman] rather than destructive [warrior]. I wanted to be a voice for men who had not found themselves to be spiritual according to previous models, to be affirming rather than guilt-inducing.

2. Can you explain the process of writing the book, and why you see that as important?

It started out as a reading project rather than a writing project. I had never read or been exposed to anything on the subject so I thought I should give some of the literature a try. When the reading did not satisfy I began to journal and then invited 6 men from work and church to join me on a year long project where I would send them a “chapter” which they would read in advance and then we got together at a local pub to talk about it. I eventually expanded this to include some friends from around the continent using the internet. One of them happened to work for a publisher and he thought it needed a wider audience, passed it on to some people, and it began to be a book manuscript. This is important because men’s spirituality has often been very individualistic and this was a more communal approach.

3. In the chapter on sexuality you identify sexual fidelity as a metaphor for men’s spirituality.  How does this metaphor challenge men in faith and practice today?  Why is it important?

I can’t give away the content of the chapter! In brief, this metaphor is challenging because we live in an age of sexual liberation and promiscuity. In such an age, fidelity seems radical and counter-cultural. I also like this metaphor because it cuts across the lines of sexual orientation and marital status. Fidelity is a challenge regardless of orientation or status. We often get side-tracked by those issues when I think the primary issue for men is fidelity in all our relationships.

4. What is your hope with the message of this book?  How would you like to see people and churches use it?

I want it to change the world. I hope it stops war. This may sound like a utopian fantasy that belongs in a women’s beauty pageant, but I believe one of the roots of war and violence in the world is man’s craving for power and dominion over others. If men would embrace a more constructive, egalitarian and communal spirituality, the world would be a better place for all people. As a follower of Jesus who believes in the power of the Spirit, this transformation in men’s lives and in the world, is not by our will power but it is God’s work so what I hope that men do in response to reading the book is to place themselves before God so that God can transform them and their relationships. I would like to see church men’s groups read and discuss the book [there are discussion questions for this purpose in the back] and I would like to have people give it to young men as a gift.

5. You were recently featured on the cover of the Canadian Mennonite.  How does it feel to be a cover model?

For a Mennonite preacher it’s like having your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone! They did not ask for my permission to take the picture or put it on the cover.

Author Gareth Brandt is a professor at Columbia Bible Collage in Abbotsford, British Columbia.  Check out his book “Under Construction: Re-framing Men’s Spirituality” and find him over at www.garethbrandt.wordpress.com.  He also has a website directly focused on men’s spirituality at www.mensspirituality.com

Faithfulness and Fidelity

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Fidelity will not always be sex and fun.  Sometimes it might be simple faithfulness in daily ordinary routines, mutual allegiance against outside threats, or mutual perseverance through difficult situations.  One example of a man I knew whose wife was paralyzed from the neck down.  Too many men in midlife have abandoned their wives for younger women who can “give them the sex they need.”  But this man cared for his wife day in and day out, and I’m sure experienced increasing depth in their relationship in spite of her disability.  That is sexual fidelity.

Gareth Brandt, Under Construction: Re-framing Men’s Spirituality, page 117.

God’s faithfulness and fidelity does not come to us whimsically.  It has a price.  A steep price.  A price that only faithfulness in it’s truest sense will ever give us a glimpse of it’s beautiful persistence and commitment.  It is a faithfulness and commitment grounded in covenant relationship.

May our covenant relationships be given the true blessing of fidelity, a fidelity with a price, a fidelity that seeks to mimic the commitment God has to us in the saving life of Christ.  This is the blessing of the marriage covenant in which sexuality is grounded.  Yet, as in the marriage covenant fidelity is much more than faithful sexuality.

May we heed the example of the man who cared for his paralyzed wife ‘day in and day out’ and recognize that fidelity carries with it the price of unconditional love.

Where do you see the price of fidelity?  What does unconditional love look like in your particular place and time?   

Please stay tuned as I will be interviewing Gareth Brandt, author of “Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality” in the very near future.  But for more reading on this check out his website on the topic. His voice is very welcome and important to the conversation on male spirituality.  www.mensspirituality.com

Fidelity is Sexy

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Marriage is about sex, companionship and the possibility of children.  But even more than that, “marriage tells us something about God.”  It is a sacred, exclusive, loyal, lifelong, mutually submissive, mutually respecting, love-based commitment.  In that sense marriage re-enacts God’s fidelity to us.  As God is faithful to us, we are faithful to each other.  When a couple get’s married they speak vows of fidelity to each other, “forsaking all others… in sickness and in health… till death do us part.”  When fidelity in human relationships mirrors fidelity in our relationship with God (see 1 John 4:7-12), sexuality and spirituality embrace. 

Gareth Brandt, Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality, page 116

Our world deems many things as ‘sexy.’  Books, magazines, swim suit editions, playboy, 50 Shades of Grey, music, and movies have significant influence in what frames and defines sexuality for our culture.  Fidelity, it seems, does not rock the top of the sexy list.

My wife and I recently hit our 8 year anniversary.  What a crazy 8 years it has been.  Jam packed with ups and downs and the mundane.  She is the love of my life, my partner in this journey.  While performing the wedding of our dear friends, I was reminded that the vows of marriage is a step in faithful obedience to one another and to God.  It is not like I forgot this in my 8 years with Katrina, but it served as a reminder that fidelity, faithfulness and obedience are all operative within the multi-faceted dynamics of a ‘grounded in God’ marriage relationship.

Through continued fidelity, faithfulness and obedience within the marriage relationship, sexuality becomes intimately connected with faith in God.  But it does not end there.  The marriage relationship is taking a beating with rising divorce rates.  As much as it has ever been, marriage is a very public testimony of faithfulness to one another, and faithfulness to God.  It becomes missional by nature.

A big part of that public testimony, or that missionality, is that “Fidelity Is Sexy.”  The church would do well to speak more on this topic.

What about your church?  Does it speak on fidelity?  How important do you see fidelity as the church wrestles with conversations about sexuality?  Is it being talked about?

Please stay tuned as I will be interviewing Gareth Brandt, author of “Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality” in the very near future.  But for more reading on this check out his website on the topic. His voice is very welcome and important to the conversation on male spirituality.  www.mensspirituality.com

Holy Spirit pt2: “the assembly, potlucks and sexuality”

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I was not present at the Mennonite Church Canada Assembly in Kitchener-Waterloo Ontario this past July.  However, in hearing a report back I am beginning to wish that I had been. I understand that in the next coming years there will be significant discernment on the matter of sexuality as it relates to the church, the bible, and our world. The obvious ‘white elephant in the room’ when we talk about sexuality and the church at the moment the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Questioning community and it’s interaction and participation within the greater body of Mennonite Church Canada.

Good!  It’s about time we roll up our sleeves and talk about this… like really talk about this. Dare I say that I think it is coming about 20 years too late?

Jack Suderman wrote a brilliant paper called “Being a Faithful Church: Testing the Spirits in the Midst of Hermeneutical Ferment”which makes a strong case for the consistent necessity of good ol’ fashion communal believers church discernment on the places and spaces where the Holy Spirit is and moving toward.  The dream of believers church discernment would be a community interpreting scripture and it’s own immediate cultural context on a continual basis in an effort to, hopefully, incarnate the hope of the gospel as the Holy Spirit leads. This discussion my friends is one place in which we find the Holy Spirit in Anabaptist/Mennonite theology.  The thing is, it’s all grounded in a people gathered in faith.  I don’t know about you, but when I think of gathering and Mennonites I think of potlucks.

And I love potlucks.  I love going down into the church basement and finding tons of similar looking salads, cold farmer sausage, jello with the fruit in it, and chilli. The even better part about the whole thing is the opportunity to connect with other members of the community who, in an ideal Menno world, brought food too. It’s a beautiful picture seeing a bunch of people, sitting together, partaking in a common meal, who are wholly gathered in the name of the great “I AM.” It’s but one picture of a community incarnating unity. Its a unity grounded in the unifying grandness of a worthy to be worshipped God.

This doesn’t just happen at potlucks.

The beautiful part about this whole discussion is the assumption that the Holy Spirit is present where the few or many are gathered (Matthew 18:20 is an interesting text to take a look at, particularly in light of this discussion… read it here). This includes potlucks and nitty gritty discernment gatherings. It really is a back to the basics moment in Mennonite/Anabaptist praxis. Here is an opportunity before the Anabaptist/Mennonite community to participate with the Holy Spirit in the discernment of a fundamental issue as it relates to something that is incredibly human.  It presents an opportunity to strive to be in touch with the active God of the past, the future, and the here and now.

I have been part of discussions on the topic of human sexuality before. Some were positive and others were not. But, even though this communal discernment thing is daunting I take hope in the God of hope. I take hope that it will be done in respect and mutual understanding and being ok to disagree. I hope that a community of people who are united in faith can find room for all
people with various thoughts and wonderings and count them as valuable for the discernment of this topic.  But I would also like to see this conversation move into a more tangible reality, rather than the pure talk that can dominate and castrate issues like this.  Ultimately making it impossible to move into the practical.

The trick then will be to make this discernment full of respect and understanding.  Which means no ‘us’ vs ‘them language.’  If there is some of that language in this post, it is most certainly not intentional.  It is a tough road to navigate, however it is also a prime opportunity for a community to discern the Spirits moving.  What does the ideal discussion and discernment look like if we are to be in tune with the Holy Spirit?  How does the Spirit of God manifest itself in difficult times like this?  Other denominations have tackled this conversation and the implications have been mixed.  I hope that we can push forward on this without any division, which is a common hope of many.  But, before we think of that I can’t help but wonder if the most important elements moving forward with this discernment on human sexuality is connecting wholly and completely with a God who is bigger than that which could divide.  Let’s be getting our ‘discernment on’ over a good ol’ fashion Mennonite potluck and talk life and God which would be a back to the basics of Mennonite/Anabaptist praxis.  Can you imagine, different people with different points of view, coming from different places and different life experiences gathered together sharing a common meal?

(for other posts in this series)

Holy Spirit pt 1 “the crazy uncle nobody talks about”

Holy Spirit pt 3 “where you are present matters”