These pages introduce the three things that Eldredge will lay out as fundamental to a man’s heart. The “a” in “a man” is important here, because it’s explicitly Eldredge’s heart he’s talking about:
There are three desires I find written so deeply into my heart I know now I can no longer disregard them without losing my soul. […] I am convinced these desires are universal, a clue into masculinity itself.
So we’re explicitly generalizing from Eldredge: he sees this in himself, and he sees it when he looks outwards. It is not a surprise that he sees it as he looks outwards: it’s the law of the instrument, more commonly known as the Golden Hammer: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Each of us are limited to our own conceptions, and that’s all we have to work from. In this case, Eldredge has only his own concept of masculinity to work from, and so if there is a universal masculinity, it must look like his. (After all, he is undoubtedly a man and participating in that universal masculinity.)
I will present and address the three desires each in their own subsequent post, but I was really struck by Eldredge’s prompt:
What makes you come alive? What stirs your heart?
The question is presented rhetorically: he doesn’t get into how the reader might answer it for themselves, but instead goes straight into providing the (his) answer. But I took the question seriously and took a beat: What does make me come alive? What does stir my heart?
It’s a surprisingly tricky question to answer. I started by considering those things that I enjoy doing, and asked myself which of those really make me come alive and stir my heart. This is tricky, because so many things are enjoyable entertainments and nice ways to pass time, but they don’t really make me “come alive”. Life offers many guilty pleasures which are ultimately hollow: the way to recognize these hollow pleasures is to consider how long their fulfillment lasts. Do these pleasures still enrich and enliven life days afterwards? Months? Years? Those experiences which stick into the mind and soul, and that change the course of life from that moment forward—those are the experiences that we are looking for.
For me, I made this list:
- Hiking through the woods with my dog off-leash.
- Hiking the Superior Hiking Trail with my Boy Scout troop.
- Rock climbing.
- My fraternal experiences (ΘΧ undergraduate fraternity, Freemasonry), especially fraternal rituals and events.
- Going to Duke Divinity School, especially our lunchtable theologizing, the conversation in classes, and struggling with papers.
- My family’s Full-contact Easter Egg Hunts and other traditions.
- Contributing open source software which other people find useful.
- My music house parties (one with Jon Watts and Bibis Ellison, the other with Artemis and Daniel Berkman).
- Working at Urban Ministries of Durham and the Caswell Parish.
- Editting my anthology.
- And, of course, becoming a father.
From these experiences, I distilled three qualities that they all share.
Building things. I am using this term in its most generic sense: this can be building something physically, but it could also be organizing something socially, constructing knowledge, creating memories, or (in social media terms) “generating content”. I really enjoy any creative enterprise where raw or fragmentary parts are brought together and become something which wasn’t there before, greater than the sum of the parts. Debates only interest me insofar as they are constructive, or at least bringing out something new and interesting to be integrated into my understanding.
Exercising my unique gifts. I love when I can participate in making things better than they were before. This isn’t a savior complex, because I am not invested in saving or changing people: I simply enjoy knowing that someone’s life is better because I got to be a part of it. But this help only really makes me come alive when my contribution is unique and special. My one-time experience working on a political campaign should illustrate the difference: when I volunteered for the campaign, they immediately slotted me into their volunteer utilization process, which included putting me onto phone bank during certain times, and where I was expected to call certain phone numbers and follow a rote script. This killed my soul: I had no interest. It felt disingenious to be following this script, and inauthentic to myself. Contrast that with my time working at Urban Ministries of Durham, where I was making judgment calls about how to manage the limited resources available in the food pantry to address individuals' circumstances. My soul thrived in that position.
Participating in interconnectedness. I was trying to figure out a non-mystical way of putting this, and generally failing. I think the failure is because this is the fundamental mystical concept: the internalized experience of dissolving our apparent separation. This is why I love riding a motorcycle: you are exposed to the elements and directly interconnected to the road and the bike. I love hiking on barely-maintained nature trails, because the roots and the rocks in the path force my attention to each step that I am taking. I love shared experiences that bond people together. I love engaging conversations. And I love tradition, because it gives me a way of connecting to a long history of wisdom.
Obviously, these are hardly uniquely or ubiquitously male drives: plenty of women out there will share these drives with me, and I’m sure you could find a guy who could not care less about each of them. This list is very different from the one Eldredge generated, and we’ll see how that plays out as we read farther…
It was an interesting bit of soul-searching to come up with three (and only three) answers to Eldredge's prompt. What would your answers be?