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June 14, 2023
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June 14, 2023

Between Cain and Abel – the path to true masculinity

Q: Archbishop J, what is happening to our men?

Masculinity has been in flux for a long time now, since the end of the World War II, alongside the rise of the women’s movement, women entering the workplace and urbanisation. The transformation of the masculine ideal has had its impact on men collectively and individually.

The Lone Ranger and the John Wayne characters, rugged, self-reliant, the hero who fights enemies singlehandedly and lives in the wild is no longer the masculine ideal.

Hiccup (from the series How to Train a Dragon), the son of Stoick the Vast, has emerged in our unconscious. He is emphatic, sees connection where his father sees enmity; he is a lover, a warrior, a magician, and king, but in a very different way from his father. He turns the enemy into a friend and ally. His leadership is through example, empathy and engagement.

This is not a soft male – he is courageous, ingenious, a problem-solver, fearless and a man open to learning through trial and error. This is a different masculine ideal.

In the flux, masculinity has borne serious scars. Without a roadmap for men that is tried and tested, domestic violence has doubled in the last two years, our murder rate has reached a new high—601 last year, pornography use has escalated with boys beginning to watch porn as early as age 8.

We should all be alarmed by these trends. Ensuring a healthy masculinity and building our young nation presents a major challenge. Understanding the challenge and finding the path to heal it is our most significant task.

One at-risk young man I spoke with recently was deemed a troublemaker at school. He spoke about his home as difficult. When I pressed him, he said: “My father does drink. Then he does beat me.”

This child, I would propose, is not a troublemaker. He is traumatised. The “trouble” is the symptom of the ailment, not a definition of the child. The family is abusive, and not nurturing and protecting him in a way that he needs and deserves. This is passed on to the next generation.

I am sure if we were to examine his father’s story, we will find a similar pattern of abuse. Trauma haunts us in so many ways. It stays with us, stored in our bodies, producing irrational behaviours that we could misinterpret.

A missing link

What we do not easily see and celebrate are the men who, against all odds break with the old pattern and get it right, like Alwyn. At 18, he was lost, without a job. He came from a great family but a very bad neighbourhood. I engaged him to help in sports with a programme I ran. I gave him a stipend, mentored him, got him experience and 30 years later he is married, a father, and has made a career of caring for lost boys and homeless people.

Or there is John, a young man from Laventille who founded Beautifully Broken. He and his pals go around speaking to young people about the power of wounds to find God and healing. He has written and published a book that helps other young men.

Another, Lennox, from ‘behind the bridge’, is married to Angie, from the same area. They have been married for 50 years and he fought his way to the top of his industry. He has been a father to his children and grandchildren. He also wrote his story.

A biblical perspective

As soon as Adam and Eve fell from God’s grace and are kicked out of the garden (Gen 3), a new notion is introduced: sacrifice.

Early in Genesis 4, Cain and Abel are born. Cain was a worker of the ground, and Abel was a keeper of sheep. The Bible says: “In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast” (Gen 4:3–5).

As the story moves forward, God engages Cain about his anger and warns him: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Gen 4:7).

This is intriguing. Cain is warned to do what is right, but his emotions get in the way. He takes his brother to a field and kills him.

This story is the beginning of murder in the human family, and it has much to teach. It ends with disordered emotions, but it does not begin there. It begins with bad sacrifice. That leads to jealousy and then to murder.

The description of the emotions is important: “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it”.

The image is of a crouching tiger or lion, waiting to pounce and devour. The injunction is: “You must rule over it”.

It is a terrible thing to see a man under the control of his anger. If he does not learn to rule over it, it will have its way with him.

We can identify two types of men, the Abel character, and the Cain character: one is pleasing to God, the other is out of control.

How does he learn to rein in his emotions? He needs to learn to give wholesome sacrifice.

Abel gave fat portions from the firstborn of his flock. Abel’s offering was acceptable, it was a wholehearted sacrifice. The offering of Cain was not. He gave: “some of the fruit of the soil”.

Men who learn to make wholehearted sacrifice are men who learn to rule over their emotions. They are the positive role models with a healthy masculinity. Men who do not learn to make wholehearted sacrifice do not learn to control their desires; these rule over them. This destroys society.

Wholehearted sacrifice begins with deep generosity, a willingness to give to God the first and the best. This orients the ego beyond itself to the ultimate other, God, and has the function of turning the man outwards to others, which is where masculinity is always directed when healthy. It requires forgetting self and giving oneself away.

When masculinity turns in on itself, when it seeks first to gratify self, to hold back for itself, it makes a half-hearted sacrifice—“sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you”.

We have treated our boys like little princes and taught them to live with little or no sacrifice. To move forward as a nation, we need to teach boys and men to make wholehearted sacrifice.

Most men move between Cain and Abel. All our great role models make wholehearted sacrifice. Jesus, like Abel, was killed because of his wholehearted sacrifice to God. This is the pain and path of true masculinity.


Key Message:

True masculinity requires making a wholehearted sacrifice. This is the way through the flux and current challenge.

Action Step:

If you are male, or raising or mentoring males, begin with incremental small steps towards sacrificial living. Ultimately, we need to come to wholehearted daily sacrifice. Honour the men in your life who made wholehearted sacrifice.

Scripture Reading:

Gen 4:1–9