October 14, 2008

Wild at Heart by John Eldredge

John Eldredge's book, Wild at Heart, is actually a book for men -- and maybe for the women that love them -- yet I read it as a mom, for the little man-in-training that I have running about. I found it really really helpful and interesting. In many ways, it is confirming some of my presuppositions.

Eldridge's basic assertion is that every man needs a dragon to slay, an adventure to live, and a beauty to win. And that the dragon to slay, the adventure to live, and the beauty to win are all spiritual. It offers some very intriguing discussions on this as well as more down-to earth concerns that speak to me, a mother of a son. Here are some passages that captured my attention.
Capes and swords, camouflage, bandannas and six-shooters -- these are the uniforms of boyhood. Little boys yearn to know they are powerful, they are dangerous, they are someone to be reckoned with. [ . . . ] Despite what many modern educators would say, this is not a psychological disturbance brought on by violent television or chemical imbalance. Aggression is part of the masculine design, we are hardwired for it. [ . . . ] Life needs a man to be fierce -- and fiercely devoted. The wounds he will take throughout his life will cause him to lose heart if all he has been trained to be is soft.
It was the 'adventure to live' part that was in my mind as I let my son play on the logs at the ocean, in winter.

Eldridge also speaks to the current trend to ask little boys to become more like little girls. You know, sit still, behave nicely, negotiate pleasantly, etc.
We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.
We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.
We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful.
~ C.S.Lewis
In my view, virtue and enterprise arise from courage, competitiveness, and opportunities to mess up and learn therein. Honor comes from temptations resisted, not from temptations un-faced. This put me in mind of another Lewis passage:
A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is . . . A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.
The strong one is the one that regularly encounters and shuns temptations. This also applies, I think, to the wise man. I'm hoping that, as I let my little man often encounter and often choose foolish actions, he will learn (eventually) to make wise choices. We call the foolish choices Learning Opportunities. My sister's hubby calls them Self-Correcting Behaviors.

Wild at Heart also included this passage from Chesterton -- in a completely different chapter and not related to the above-mentioned discussion -- that I really liked and I'm including it in this post because I found it so thought-provoking.
Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like win. ~ G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
I recommend this book to any man who is a father or who has a father. It has some keen observations and some wisdom, particularly if there are some wounds around those relationships.

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