Posts Tagged ‘rites of passages’

As a counselor and a pastor… and as man, rites of passages are very important to me.

Throughout history and across people groups, rites of passages have been culturally vital ways to communicate to members of the community that they are taking on a new role within that community – boy to man, worker to leader, girl to woman, servant to warrior, etc.

The medieval noble families moved their sons from children to page around age 7, from page to squire around age 14 and from squire to knight around 21. The Massai tribes “capture” the boys from the women’s side of the village and declare them men and then train them to kill a lion; when they kill the lion they move from “runner” to “warrior.”

Today in America, we have essentially nothing cultural that communicates when a boy is accepted generally as a man.   The consequence? We have hundreds of thousands of males who are not confident that they are a man. The boy looks around and sees those he thinks of as men, but none of those men are making it clear that they think of him as a man… and many of those “men” doubt it deeply about themselves as well. Where can we find them? One option is to look outdoors.

I remember helping my father pile firewood in the wheelbarrow. I was there with him. He dropped the tree, cut it up, split it, loaded and hauled it, and stacked it. Probably around age 4, I was helping him to some loading. Then one year he had me push the wheelbarrow full of firewood (and incidentally, nothing will teach someone temper control like a one-wheeled wheelbarrow, right?).

Then one year he handed me a splitting maul and had me start splitting. I knew my father saw me differently. Maybe not a man, but not a boy anymore either.

He saw me as responsible, wise and strong enough for the edge.

And then, around age 17, he handed me the eye and hearing protection and with no preamble, talked me through using the chainsaw. I spent that day with him training me on various cuts and techniques (my father was a forestry professor). I went to be knowing that night that my father thought of me as, to an important degree, a man.

… but the message was plenty clear. In fact, I remember my father referring to an adult male the he apparently thought of as “less than a man” with the phrase “I wouldn’t trust that guy with a chainsaw.”

In the ancient Hebrew scriptures, in Deuteronomy chapter 6:7, the men of Israel are instructed to teach their children the truths of God not just a few hours one morning a week… but all the time…  “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” [1]

We cannot relegate these vital truths of life and death, God and Christ, sin and redemption, love and sacrifice, temptation and forgiveness to the voice any other man, even if he is our pastor. We, as fathers, must remember that responsibility still lies with us.

When, in today’s nonstop busy world with buzzing phones, are we centered and quiet enough to talk to our children about these things that really matter?

Over logs being tossed into a wheelbarrow, and after that wheelbarrow, despite the boy’s best effort, has tipped and dumped the whole load… or find the activity you can engage with, adding with intentionality to your child’s responsibilities, and talk.

These are when these conversations can happen without feeling awkward and forced. These are when the world’s problems are solved. These are when our sons might know that they are men. This is when our kids can hear that we are proud of them for no other reason than the truth that they are our children, even without words sometimes. This is when our children might know that they are, ultimately, not ours, but God’s.

In an effort to help us men out, I have created “The Gauntlet – A study that works even for busy dads and sons along the Deut 6 model.” To learn more or to find out how to purchase one, look at the resource page or email at chrismlegg@gmail.com.

How I handle these rites in my family might offer some ideas as well.

I also have done a rite of passage for an adult man that has some fun ideas in it.


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Manhood Rite

A few years ago, my brother-in –law was interested in doing a manhood ceremony, rites of passage, challenge kind of thing.  He asked me to create it for him.  I wanted to create a plan and yet still create an individualized experience for him.

Here is what I did, and this is now the model that I would use in the future:

I wanted to cover a few areas:

Archetypes of masculinity (warrior, wizard, king, lover)


Touch on the various roles of a man (husband, brother, son, father)

I wanted him to hurt, and in particular, to bleed.

I wanted him to have to suffer through something he would want to quit.

I wanted him to engage with the natural world.

I wanted him to provide via his labor.

I wanted him to develop and experience new skills.

I wanted him to interact with other men who are clearly men, and to be blessed by them.

Everything needed to have an edge of intentionality… connected to the I Corinthians 16:13-14:  “Watch, stand firm in your faith, act like a man, be strong, and let everything you do be done in love.”

The Tasks

So, the first task was for him to purchase quality work boots (men prize excellence and quality) and work gloves, and we borrowed a hard hat (men use proper equipment for the job).  I found a huge dead tree in the woods behind our house.

It was a very nice touch that his father paid for the boots (Redwing steel toed) and his sister paid for his gloves (lambskin).

I got an axe and first he sharpened it (the 7th of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Sharpen the Saw”).  We sharpened it and then he had access to the file to sharpen anytime he thought it was needed.

I then took him to the tree and taught him about how to properly swing an axe at a vertical target (cutting wedges, swinging smoothly) and I put him to work.  I told him he needed to cut down the tree.  For the first while, with another axe, I cut with him, and we talked about messages about being a man we had gotten in our lives.

Then I left him to work.  Later that day, I sent 3 other men to come work alongside of him – each of them represented (in my opinion) the warrior (a muscular guy who immediately stripped off his shirt and starting swinging – not as many words, but they talked about Bible verses that might apply to being a man.; the wizard (a teacher who runs a discipleship program and a hard worker who talked theology with him for an hour); and a King (who, despite my encouragement to chop with him, actually took him to Sonic for a break and a drink – typical of a king-type, right?).  I did not have someone who I thought represented the lover well.

Mark chopped, with few breaks, for about 6 hours.

That evening, we marinated steaks for us and our wives.

That night we camped out under the stars, smoked a cigar (I should have chosen better quality cigars), and I talked with him about the aspects of being a man that he represented well, and how he had spoken into me in the past.  I told him, that in my opinion as a man, that he was, indeed, a man.  (We do not know we are a man until someone who we think of as a man tells us that we are a man.) We talked about being dads and husbands and leaders in ministry as well as insecurities.

We got up the next morning and started chopping again.  By now, Mark had serious blisters and tears on his hands that were bleeding in his gloves.  He was sore and exhausted, but he pushed through. Once, even when I encouraged him to take a break, he chose to keep going instead.

Finally, the monster came down (snapping a “come-along” in the process) – and it was impressive.

It fell, despite my best effort, into the nearby lake.  So, we took a 4×4 truck and he learned how to operate the four-wheel drive and he dragged it out.

Then, I showed him how to operate a chainsaw and had him cut a few logs (his arms were so tired he could barely hold it, but he pushed through for at least a few).

After a rest, he and I grilled the steaks over the wood from the tree he had cut down and served them.

Notice how each of the goals for the event was woven in.  If you, or someone you know needs some kind of experience meant to accomplish the same thing – to set in stone the truth that a man is a man, contact me here.  I believe it is in God’s design for men to be able to embrace the gift of masculinity that God has given us (and femininity for women)… and I would love to help.  For information about setting something like this up, email me at chrismlegg@gmail.com

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