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Manhood, One Little Black Dress at a Time

So often, I am in familiar territory. I am my girlfriend Kassie‘s best friend, she’s my best friend, we get each other. Usually we can talk on the same page, even when we’re talking about things where we differ.  However, I was definitely in over my head on Monday night after football.

It was after football, I felt exhausted. Kassie was sorely disappointed that the dress she thought she was buying for confirmation is not at all what she thought it was(it had blue patches that made it look like a patched tarp). Apparently the blue didn’t show up on her phone, and she thought it was an all black dress. This wasn’t a crisis, she wasn’t freaking out, but I could tell she was a bit disappointed.

Herein I will describe how I made it through.

Well, I now have a glimpse into the women’s struggle that is shopping for Church clothing. I mean, I have never shopped online for clothing, let alone clothing that was not for me. This was ridiculous.

I’ll say it again. Ridiculous. My little Texas Maiden and I decide to help her find a dress to wear for her confirmation, and it was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I don’t mean it was trying, it wasn’t like pulling teeth. I legitimately love my girlfriend and I wanted to help her, but the experience itself was almost akin to the 12 labors of Hercules. The struggle to find an acceptably modest dress with style and class that would fit the season we’re being confirmed may as well have been trying to walk into a Calvinist service on Sunday morning and get everyone to pray the rosary and kiss an icon of St. Jude (Who I felt was more than aptly called on several times silently that night).

We looked through website after website, for dress after dress, and nothing would click. I started off with a few good choices (at least that’s what she told me,) but as we progressed I got more weary, and more exasperated by the sheer amount of selection without benefit. I was stifled by the surplus, and overwhelmed by the omnibus. There was a legion of dresses, few modest, even fewer combining said modesty with class, or style.

And we’re not ignorant first-time web shoppers, well, she’s not. I mean, we just wanted to find a black dress. I thought, “no big deal,” when the evening started, by the end of it all I may as well have undertaken singlehandedly returning all the protestants to the dutiful authority of the Holy See. We’re informed shoppers, we do our homework. We had tools on our side. We read Betty Beguiles we know where to look. We had an arsenal of energy, and a  “tag-team this undertaking” attitude as well as a general humor that made it bearable, and really it was a bit of fun, to be completely honest.

I’d picture my little Texas Flower in dress after dress, some of them making me cringe, others appealing, but not for Church. Others seemed perfect, and I’d forward a link and some were really good. But we still hadn’t found perfection.

I know some of my readers might think I’m God’s gift to Catholic women, I am orthodox, go dress shopping online and love to read, write and cook. You’re right. Well, not really, but I do have this to say: I’m not afraid of being supportive with my manhood. I’m not afraid of making room for Kassie to shine, or make demands on my time, or attention. I’m not opposed to her asking for my energy, or even asking me to undo some stereotypical masculinity. She didn’t actively ask by the way, she was already looking, I volunteered. Which she jumped at.

I’m a source for her, as a man, I’m a source she can come to for strength, encouragement, and fun. And it was fun. We looked at dresses, sometimes despairing about fashion sense in the market, sometimes wishing a blue or orange one would come in black. I enjoyed being able to just help her out, and despite my exasperation (I found a great dress, but I didn’t notice that the sides were cut-out. Not just, slits, like wildly large gaping hip-flare holes from the pits of hell, cut out.)

I didn’t mind it at all. I know I said it was a labor, but the spending time with Kassie part of it wasn’t. It was the actual finding of a modest dress that was.

I was definitely out of my league, and I knew it. I was a guppy, surfing the web with sharks. Despite that feeling though, I learned a few good things. I learned that being a man isn’t always about doing stereotypically manly things. I mean I knew that, but it’s nice to have reminders. I can just be there and spend time with my girlfriend helping her do something that makes her happy. I was available to her, just having fun and laughing. I learned that we really are awesome together, and that if we can survive dress shopping on the internet for modest clothing that even Betty Beguiles wouldn’t shake a stick at, we can survive anything.

I really did have fun, even if less than half the time I knew what I was doing. I just know that she would do the same for me if I wanted to watch football or do something really Brasilian or masculine. I figured it was the least I could do, and I ended up having a great, albeit slightly heckled time.

I mean, I didn’t end up converting the protestants, or starting an Inquisition, or even finding the right dress. Kassie found it on her own, without any help from me. I didn’t mind at all, because we had fun.

I am secure in my manhood enough to help my girlfriend shop for her confirmation dress, and develop a Catholic, loving, thoughtful manhood, one little black dress at a time.

Facing the Hulk

Hulk (film)

Image via Wikipedia

So, I know I said this is a conversion journal, and yet, there is nothing specifically about my conversion yet, but that’s half the fun. Anyways, Let’s talk about my life.

So, I have had a long week. Balancing two jobs, a church I pastor at, my family, my girlfriend and all the blogging that I do is no easy task. In fact, it’s damn near insurmountable sometimes. This whole process is funky, it’s weird, it doesn’t always fit right. I’m often left with more questions than answers. But let’s look at today’s topic.

The Big Green Tragedy

Have you ever heard Stan Lee talk about the Hulk; have you ever heard him describe what the Hulk means to him? I have. It was an interview that lodged itself deep in my mind and kept coming to the surface today. The Hulk is a tragic figure, he’s an anti-hero. He’s a big green destructive force, the unbridled power of rage, bound up inside a little man. I like the Incredible Hulk because I can relate.

I often feel that my biggest tragedy is that I can power my way through almost anything. I can force things to happen, I can take control of things, or just carve a solution into the midst of mountains through sheer will power alone. Yet, when I do this, I leave a swathe of destruction, chaos or general tragedy in my wake. I cannot control the outcomes of my outbursts.

And by outbursts, I mean seething inner torments. I’m not very outspoken, even when angry. I yell someitmes, but it’s few and far between, I do my best to stay calm on the surface. But just like Bruce Banner, there’s always this insurmountable uncontrollable power raging on the inside. I often try to muscle my way through things, to my detriment. Instead I should just let it be, and move through things with grace. I’m learning that being patient, and suffering can greatly increase character and wisdom where immediate remedies can actually weaken me.

The Hulk is a tragic figure.

I will only paraphrase Stan Lee, because I can’t remember it exactly he said something like, ‘and the Hulk, was my rage, all my frustration and passion’ poured into one character. The Hulk rarely connected with me as a kid, but in my mid teens I began to understand the Hulk, and what he meant. He’s a tragic figure, unable to control the world around him, all this power, yet a general inability to make things work for good. At least, that’s the sense that I get. I watched a hulk cartoon as a kid, and it seemed like while there were small victories, there was always the sense that the hulk was just good at being big and destroying things. I always saw the Hulk as a tragedy.

Facing Facts

I sat down today, placed my head in my hands, and thought long and deep, until I saw this monster before me. Screaming in my face was my own inner hulk, full of rage and it was as if I were sitting at a table and he was across from me, leaned over the table inches from my face, screaming. I looked my hulk in the eye, and I thought long and hard about what I taught my kids last night. “Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s temper, than capturing a city.” (Holman Christian Standard. I know it’s not even close to what it really says literally in the Vulgate or in the Hebrew, just run with me.)

As I sat and meditated on this verse, I learned something, that this screaming rage, this unbridled power to will myself master over things didn’t have to control me, neither did I have to fear it. Just like Jekyll and Hyde, I have a dark side, but I don’t have to let it control me. I sat there, in this little imagined scene, letting this hulk pour his fury out at me, for many reasons, and as I stared back, I just decided enough was enough.

Tea Time

I imagined forcing this raw power to sit down with me. I faced my inner hulk and made us sit down for tea. I decided, no more. No more fear, or rage, or sheer willpower against my better judgment. And in my mind the hulk calmed down, we saw into each other, I understood the power that is within me, the unbridled freedom to exist and muscle through almost anything, and I think that side of me understood the chastising virtue which I was bringing to the table. I made him civil, he made me strong.

I decided to take the situation into my own hands, but then offer it up to the crucified Jesus. I cannot master my challenges, but I can let him crucify me through them, so that both my Bruce Banner, and my incredible hulk learn to speak volumes of strength through their weakness. So that where I want to muscle through, I learn patience, so that where I’d like to overthrow cities, instead I learn to follow what the Lord Jesus would ask of me.

I hope you enjoyed this snippet of comic-book Catholicism, I know I had fun writing it.

Comment if you have thoughts.

-Eli

*side note: i do not own the Hulk, Stan Lee, the Universe or a pair of skinny jeans. Don’t sue me.

Practicing Moses

Have you Ever Over Protected?

I have.

I often as a man want to be a protector, it’s in our nature as men to protect and defend the ones we love. We want to serve them in this way, and lighten their loads. At least, that’s me. Today, I was talking to my mother who said something that got me thinking. She told me that as a man I still have to let my girlfriend bear her cross faithfully.

Sometimes, in our endeavors to be protectors, we actually circumvent the discipleship process in our significant others. I know that I try to be aloof and uninvolved in some situations, but sometimes I get sucked into wanting to protect my girlfriend from rough situations in the wrong way. What I mean is, I try to rip her off her cross, instead of holding her up as she suffers.

How do we go about not over-protecting?

Well, first we understand that Jesus and the Bible and the Church Tradition teach us it’s OK to suffer. The greatest among the saints are the martyrs, the ones who sit under the very throne of God. As Tertullian said “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We cannot grow the kingdom without understanding that suffering is part of that growth. Pope Benedict XVI says “The cross reminds us that there is no true love without suffering, there is no gift of life without pain;” I think he’s right.

Jesus put it this way:

“…just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up…” (John 3.14). So too, we Christians, who work in and with Christ as His body suffer for the good of the world. It’s our calling to share in the sufferings of Christ. But men, that’s not just you, that’s your spouses and girlfriends too. It’s all of us. Each in their own way, suffering to “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1.24).

Are you waging war or lifting up?

I have a confession: I feel like I was accidentally waging war on my girlfriend. There was a situation with her where I felt I wanted to protect her, but she kept saying it was gonna be alright. I got really stressed about it, but I feel all I did was bring my war on the situation to her doorstep, it didn’t solve anything. I was trying to pull her from her cross, instead of being faithful to lift her up in her sufferings.

Forcing my vision of “peace and safety” on her, would solve nothing. It would accomplish little, and it was just my wrath spewing over onto her, because I could not fix or solve the situation. I had to trust in God, and in her, instead of my own strength or power. I could not power over the situation, and I should NOT have been trying to. I should have been encouraging her in her discipleship, and practicing Moses.

What does it mean to ‘Practice Moses’?

It means making a path for restorative suffering. It means to make room for our friends, and others, our spouses and children to suffer restoratively. We let them suffer, but encourage them, strengthen them and make it so that their suffering means something to God. There’s a whole wide world out there hurting, but we as Christians can intercede by the very act of suffering when we do it rightly.

I’m learning to practice the way of Moses, and lift her up. In the face of a world full of suffering, instead of goading “if you’re so strong why don’t you come down?” we should lift up. I should notice that my girlfriend’s suffering is not a bad thing, if she does it well, and in the shoes of Moses, I should lift her up, as the Father lifted up Jesus, His Son, for our redemption.

To practice Moses means in short, to let her be, and support her in her trials, encouraging her along the way, and offering patient support. Your wife/husband, friend, girl/boyfriend might be strong enough to pull themselves off that cross, but should they? And if they do, should you rejoice in this, or encourage them to pick up their cross and carry on, lifting them up in suffering so that many more might be healed?

Are you lifting up your spouses and friends and helping them help others with their pains and sufferings? Are you making a way for restorative suffering to happen between you and your spouse and friends or are you trying to force an irregular and premature “peace” that in the long run offers no salvation, no Christ in your world.

Just something to think about.

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