Conversations in the public square of late have ranged from biblical masculinity to gender roles in the church. We need these debates, and I am a willing participant in those arguments. But for me, the topics have a personal connection to memories about tears, both my own and the tears of Jesus.
I was 12 years old when my paternal grandfather died, and when I stood in front of his coffin, I received a memorable but as I now see it, a toxic lesson in what it means to be a masculine Christian. Our extended family was gathered at the funeral home the evening before the day of the memorial service, and my parents encouraged me to approach the coffin to say my goodbyes to Grandpa.
When I did so, I started to sob. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, the strong grip of a favourite uncle who was a construction worker. He leaned over and said softly in my ear, Chin up, soldier. Men don't cry!"
That image of the Christian man as a warrior facing the challenges of life bravely and without tears stayed with me. It was reinforced by many elements in my early spiritual journey relating to being a strong man singing Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war and Sound the battle cry, See, the foe is nigh. Evangelical youth rallies urged us to see our public high school biology classes and the lifestyle of the fast crowd as battlefields where we must hold our ground in the causes of truth and purity.
I say that my uncle's counsel stayed with me, reinforced by battle language in my spiritual upbringing, but the image of masculinity that he pressed on me was also countered in many ways in my evangelical upbringing.
By the time I was in my 30s, I had learned through many experiences that it was okay, even good for me as a Christian man to cry, to let other people see my tears. I had sobbed when I first saw my newborn son, and I had cried at key moments in marriage counselling. I had also shed tears when standing in front of many other coffins. And in doing so, particularly in funeral home settings, I had frequently acknowledged that I felt no need to live up to my uncles standard of manliness.
But while reading my Bible one morning, it all came together for me in a dramatic way while reading chapter 11 of Johns gospel, detailing Jesus visit to the sisters of Lazarus after their brother had died. Jesus at one point asks to be taken to the burial place, and then in the shortest verse in the English Bible, Jesus wept.
I had come upon that short verse many times. On this occasion, though, in reading about the grief of Jesus when he approached the tomb of Lazarus, I believe that the Holy Spirit confronted me with the stark contrast between my uncle's counsel and the stark declaration of the gospel account. I heard again my uncle's voice Men don't cry.
And at the same time, I heard the Spirit whispering to me Jesus wept!"
I got the message the Lord wanted me to hear that the man cried. The eternal Second Person of the divine Trinity, incarnate as a Galilean man whose divine mission was to understand in his own being all the ways that we men and women suffer, that man wept.
Those issues have come to mind for me frequently in recent times as I have followed the important and often hostile discussions about evangelical understandings of masculinity. I am convinced that the picture of the Savior weeping in a public setting has a profound importance for our discussions of masculinity.