1. When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing when I was in grade school journaling my thoughts and writing personal reflections. I began writing because I had questions about life and people and about myself and I was looking for answers. Writing has helped me wrestle on paper with my thoughts and helps me gain greater clarity so that over time I begin to learn to live into the answers.
2. Why did you write this book?
I wrote Pillars of Steel out of my own search for meaningful relationships with other men. After my three sons grew up and left for college, I looked around and realized the friendships I had with my buddies were surface friendships, none of my buddies were willing to share the deeper stuff inside of them like faith, and emotions and the questions they struggled with as they grew and engaged life. I realized there was an unwritten man code us guys are supposed to follow which limits and divides us as men. So, I went on a quest to discover what that man code was, why it has become such a part of manhood and how we might find ways to overcome it and take a deeper path to friendships and wholeness among men.
What I found in my research is that our current culture is an anomaly—-most other cultures have lifted up deep philia friendships as a strong virtue for men. These philia friendships are much richer and deeper than the superficial friendships most men are restricted to in our culture.
So, I decided to write Pillars of Steel as a wakeup call to myself and other men inviting us to join on a new road to travel marked with such signposts as the “Deep Male,” the “Sacred Masculine” or the “Inner Male.” I decided to get the conversation going and see where it might lead us as men.
3. What research did you have to do for this book?
The book is steeped in research and references since it formed the thesis project for my Masters of Pastoral Counseling degree. It provides a well-documented history of masculinity and points back to the doctrine of spiritual friendships written about and experienced by Saint Aelred of Rievaulx in 1147.
4. Have any authors influenced your work?
Richard Rohr, Robert Bly, Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen have had the most influence on my writing. These men were able to integrate their own questions and life struggles into their writing and offer not only glimpses into their own heart, but also wisdom for others to gather and use on their journey.
5. Pillars of Steel mentions the “man code.” What exactly is it?
The “man code” are those unwritten rules which govern how men are supposed to interact with other men in our culture. They are the cultural norms men are expected to follow in order to be deemed masculine.
Rather than helping men grow and gain wisdom and wholeness in the company of other men, however, they teach us as men to compete with each other and act as if we have it all figured out. These remnants of patriarchy box men in and force men to play “king of the mountain” with each other instead of walking shoulder to shoulder.
6. Your book speaks about men not being able to break the “man code.” When do you find the so-called man code gets in the way of meaningful friendships between men?
First—Awareness. I don’t think we as men have fully understood how pervasive the man rules govern our lives. Until now we haven’t given these cultural rules a name so that we can understand how they restrict the depth of our friendships with ourselves and with other men.
Second—Competition. The man rules put men at odds with each other. We are taught that in order to be a man’s man in today’s culture we have to be more powerful and successful than other men which means we can never show our vulnerability, we can never let our guard down.
I remember in fourth grade when I was the new kid on the block my buddies told me I had to pick a fight with some other kid on the playground and beat him up, otherwise they wouldn’t hang out with me. That kind of real-life training taught me that I had to be tougher than some other guy in order to be accepted. In other words, the man code trained me to be tougher than other men and never let anyone, especially another guy, see me sweat.
7. Where can men go to learn more about breaking the man code?
- One of the tools I suggest in Pillars of Steel is that men form small group spiritual direction circles I refer to as Inner Compass Groups. Inner Compass Groups are composed of five to seven men who meet monthly to share their masculine journey with each other. These groups provide a sacred space for guys to share their hearts and stories with each other to gain collective wisdom and insight. These types of groups are discussed more fully at my website: www.pillarsofsteel.org. I believe these small groups provide men with an inner compass to help guide them and join with other guys to share the stuff of their life that really matters. Out of these groups many new rich friendships often develop as the guys interact with each other outside the group on the daily God-path of life.
- I am also writing a follow up book called, Daily Meditations for Life in the Ditches which should be published in 2013.
- John Eldredge also has a great eight week DVD series called, Fathered by God, which men can use as a resource both individually or in small groups.
- Finally, Richard Rohr has created an amazing retreat experience for men to experience the rites of passage and initiation into manhood. Information can be found on Richard’s website: http://www.malespirituality.org/rites_of_passage.htm.
8. Do you offer coaching or mentoring on how to break the man code?
Yes. As a spiritual director one of my passions is to work with both individuals and groups of men to help them break the man code and move into the deep male—the sacred masculine. That can be done one-on-one through individual spiritual direction and coaching or it can be done in small groups as I assist groups of men in forming the inner compass/group spiritual direction circles mentioned above.
One of the beginning points is a two-hour workshop I have been doing with men and women called: The First Conversation: Having the Balls to Break the Man Code which gets us laughing and talking about the man code. This workshop helps us identify the crazy man rules we have to follow and then focus on how they restrict our growth as men. For those who want to go deeper, the workshop then invites men to enter into either individual or group spiritual direction to continue the journey.