There was a moment in the movie Captain Phillips which really caught me off guard. Tom Hanks, in the title role, falls apart. And it’s done so well that it’s really moving. You see, the film Captain Phillips is not like Die Hard, or Skyfall. The trauma of an extraordinarily intense situation takes its toll. Captain Phillips does not just leap up, crack a one liner, brush dust from his lapel and smash his way through the next wall. Instead you see a man unable to keep his emotions in check.
I have just started re-reading Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. In that book David Murrow writes honestly about the reasons many men stay away from church services. I first read the book about 8 years ago and back then I found it inspiring and motivational. Now, to be honest, I find it depressing. Not least because the picture of declining male attendance continues. But mostly because I think I am part of the problem.
Early in his book David Murrow makes the comment that church has a reputation for attracting artistic, gentle, bookish kind of men. Like me. He points out that three kinds of men are often missing. The young single adults, the high achievers, and the highly masculine. Not so much like me. I know we’re veering into stereotypes here, but Mr Murrow does work hard to explain these. Harder than I will here.
I’m not into DIY, cars or sport. Three of the things that men are supposed to like doing. The odd thing about my situation is this. Ten years ago I wrote a book called The Bloke’s Bible. I wrote it partly because I had been reading books by Tony Parsons and Nick Hornby, novels aimed at men about men, and I wondered where the Christian equivalents were. So I wrote a book about a guy going into his local pub, drinking Guinness and reading random bits from his battered, leather-backed Bible. Then reacting in a gritty, earthy, ragged kind of way to what he had just read. It was an opportunity to spew my questions and frustrations across the page. And guys seemed to find it helpful. (Though it must be said not many guys read books, so we did do an audio version too.) And as a result I get invited to men’s events, for which I’m hugely grateful. I show entertaining clips and do my best to talk about men, life and faith.
But when I’m not up there doing my bit I always feel like the proverbial spare part. Like the broken lawn mower gathering dust in the back of the garage. I don’t feel like I fit in and reading Mr Murrow’s book now I realise why. The kind of man who is missing from church is exactly the kind of guy I find it really difficult to relate to one to one, I just can’t do it. And maybe plenty of others can’t. Which, on a larger scale, could be why so many are missing. Though that’s just a guess.
So to come back to Captain Phillips and his emotional outburst. It’s not manly. But I really like it. Because that’s the kind of thing I relate to. Honest expression, not the strangely coded, humour-cloaked, sometimes little more than grunted, exchanges that can be the way we men communicate. I understand why we do it. Most of us just don’t do small talk, I don’t anyway. And we’re scared of being too honest in case we’re unmasked as the frauds we are. But I just can’t hack all that. I’m that artistic, gentle (er… sort of), bookish kind of man who is apparently prevalent in church circles. And as I continue to read David Murrow’s book I hope increasingly that there are Christian guys out there who can relate to the young, high-achieving, masculine kind of men. Because I’m all at sea with it.