What is a man?

20+ year ago, some Religious Right ideologues in town weren’t getting enough limelight, I guess, so they started calling for a boycott of the local Gannett paper over the Canadian-based comic “For Better or Worse.” Before our nest went empty, my wife and I thought that was one of their very best comics.

So why should it be dropped? As best I can recall, it was because a middle-school boy character, a friend of the main family in the strip, concluded that he was gay. The problem with that, again as I recall, was that the comic’s author was accepting of the fact that gay people exist and are not (disproportionately) monsters.

The character didn’t contemptibly become the Good Time That Was Had By All the other characters. He didn’t become a stereotypical sissy. He didn’t get struck by lightning during Outfest or or get arrested for molesting younger children or get AIDS and die.

He just lived, while gay.

Apart from “features a gay character,” which was about all you could really say, the campaign against the Gannett paper was mounted with half-truths, which was par for the course for one particular Religious Right leader. In war, all’s fair, and nothing is more important than war against … a comic strip! A freakin’ comic strip!?

Editorial cartoons get the same treatment routinely, as does Doonesbury. People come totally unhinged.

Comic strips act like Kryptonite on the humorless Right. A comic is never just a comic if it gets under their skin.(“St. Thomas More writes, ‘The devil…that proud spirit…cannot endure to be mocked.‘” Now why did that pop into my head?)

The Left usually blows other things out of proportion.

A poem should not mean, but be,” he quoted, pivoting. That is, a poem is just a poem.

Except when it’s not. Clara: In the Post Office, not only is, but to me means something about the unreliability of my sex that have long been painfully obvious to me. (It clearly meant something to the poet, too.)

When I know nothing more than that a couple has divorced, I reflexively blame the man. If I know the couple, I still blame the husband unless he was uncommonly sober and his wife obviously a shrew or a flirt.

Nothing upsets me so much as a Christian man, baptized and church-going, leaving wife and children because he’s unhappy. (Oh! You poor dear!)

“O holy martyrs, who fought the good fight and have received your crowns, entreat the Lord, that He will have mercy on our souls.” (Hymn of the Byzantine Rite of Crowning, or Holy Matrimony)

This hymn is sung during a triple procession, around a table in the center of the church, at the “Crowning” or Marriage-Rite of my church. It is also sung at the Rite of Ordination (to ecclesiastical orders). It is sung in anticipation of the “martyrdom” or “witness” of self-offering and self-sacrifice inherent to the life of ministers of my church – including married people, who are called to minister to each other and to others in their “domestic church.”

Why am I reflecting on this today? Because one of my relatives, a banker, wrote me an email last night, in which he mentioned that he’s currently on “the night-shift” at his bank, because his bank “has to do some trades during Asian hours.” So – he now works nights, a married man and father of three, coming home “for a nap” during the day, and then working through the night. “It’s been tough,” he says humbly, “but it should only last two weeks.”

Let me take note today of the “unsung heroes” and martyrs of my church, the married ones. How many of these men and women labor today, sitting in front of computer-screens or elsewhere, to support their families, often at unfulfilling jobs in various businesses or odd enterprises, just to support others – their families. May they all be blessed on their cross-carrying journey, however little it is recognized, because they will, indeed, “receive their crowns.”

(Sister Vassa Lerin, who providentially had this meditation waiting for me to read as I was mulling over the unreliability of my sex.)

My son’s historically Protestant all-male college spent a fair amount of time reflecting on what it means to be a man and a gentleman. I forget the details of the discussions we had about it lo those many years ago, but it seems to have molded him into an admirable man, a man of areté, of which we have far too few.

They sang that martyrdom hymn at his wedding, too.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.