I recently read a book called Iron John: A book about men by Robert Bly. Bly takes the ancient folk story of Iron John and uses it as a springboard to talk about the journey of manhood. I can’t recommend the book for a number of reasons but there were two paragraphs that had a profound impact on me and I want to share them with you. Bly writes:
When the demons are so suspicious, how can the son later make any good connections with adult male energy, especially the energy of an adult man in a position of authority or leadership? As a musician he will smash handcrafted guitars made by older men, or as a teacher suspicious of older writers he will “deconstruct” them. As a citizen he will take part in therapy rather than politics. He will feel purer when not in authority. He will go to northern California and raise marijuana, or ride three-wheelers in Maine.
There’s a general assumption now that every man in a position of power is or soon will be corrupt and oppressive. Yet the Greeks understood and praised a positive male energy that has accepted authority. They called it Zeus energy, which encompasses intelligence, robust health, compassionate decisiveness, good will, generous leadership. Zeus energy is male authority accepted for the sake of the community.
These words shocked me and I am still processing them. As Bly described the young man who distrusts all authority I felt like he was speaking directly to me. That “general assumption…that every man in a position of power is or soon will be corrupt and oppressive” is one that I have made and lived most of my life with. I’ve grown up with a feeling of disrespect and a distrust for men in authority. I knew instantly that Bly was right but it took a bit of thinking and sifting through the emotions to figure out why.
Here are a few things I came up with:
- This Zeus energy Bly describes is better described as godliness. Jesus perfectly exercises his authority over all creation and we should follow his example in the ways we are given authority.
- Authority is a God-established thing and has the potential to be a tool that can bring about great good.
- Living under the assumption that authority corrupts is a cop out for those who are afraid to lead or enter the authority they should. Living this way, we’ll either be passive and check out like the three-wheel rider Bly describes or rebellious and immature like the musician who smashes his guitar. Either way, we won’t fully grow into the manhood God wants for us.
- Making “good connections with adult male energy” really is important for all men (however strange a sentence those words make). If we have issues in this area, we’ll be stunted until we deal with them.
Encountering Bly’s thoughts on the subject of young men approaching older men in authority has opened up new worlds to me. Here’s one concrete example. I have been a politically apathetic, jaded, politician-hater for years. While I still view politics as mostly corrupt and evil, I have now opened my mind to the possibility that good men might be motivated to lead other men in government. Previously, I would assume that the desire to take part in the governance of the peoples was instant grounds for condemnation.
I’m learning that we are made to be governed and led and that authority used well is a very godly thing. I spent so much time noticing that authority misused is extremely evil that I entirely overlooked it’s intended purpose and potential for good. I’ve opened my mind to the possibility that God would have me lead. I’m now thinking about what kinds of preparation leadership requires.
Though I probably should, I’ve yet to do much thinking about why I made the assumption I did about authority in the first place. Whether it be father issues, a bad youth pastor or the simple fact that many leaders are corrupt and those tend to be the one most visible in media–it doesn’t matter at the moment. If you have a problem with authority then you need to start asking God about it. Your aversion to authority might be the very thing that keeps him from using you as a great leader.