Honestly, I struggle with people like me - middle-class male, graduate degree, well-versed in the language of evangelical ministry. It’s people like me who create the systems and ethos within the power structures of christian culture. More and more I walk into environments in which I feel a certain weight that characterizes the reality that is the matrix of male egotism.
A particular scene in the movie The Matrix powerfully illustrates this elitist paradigm: As Morpheus walks Neo through the realities of the matrix he leads him through a crowded street full of everyday businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters, etc. He explains that all of these individuals operate within a system that they become so deeply immersed in that they fail to recognize it as a distinct and toxic system.
Like the matrix scene the standard systems of Christian ministry belong to the first half of life male who seldom if ever pauses long enough to recognize this competitive world of posturing and performance.
Throughout history those looking up at us from the bottom have been women, the LGBTQ and black community, the sick and homeless among others. And while they have undoubtedly suffered through much loneliness and injustice perhaps they’ve also been afforded a gift of sight which the masses are unable to acknowledge.
Have you ever stopped to listen to the little old lady who cleans the sanctuary after the service is over? We often discover that it's these quiet and unnoticed ones who possess the real power, discernment, and clarity of vision.
Although there are many in those groups from below who slip into playing the male egotism game, the odds are greater that you’ll discover a sage, purer people of wisdom within those who reside outside of the dominant authorities. This is one of the great secrets I’ve discovered in my years among the chronically homeless. Deep and refreshing insight springs forth out of those who are either unable or simply refuse to play according to the rules of male egotism.
This year, at my wife’s insistence, I began attending a local Quaker meeting. The first Sunday meeting I entered the room feeling the awkwardness that comes with no soothing mood music or power point images on a screen to distract me from myself or others. As I sat there in the absence of noise I began to notice something peculiar. After an eternity of 30 minutes it was brought to my consciousness that the strange and yet refreshing void I felt was the absence of ego. In my history of Sunday morning evangelical church experience where I've been told how and what to think the silence of this unprogramed hour was like unexplainable poetry to my soul.
History has revealed that if we – the dominant tribe of men – are not initiated by severe experiences of failure or death our unbridled egos will begin shaping a culture of performance, bravado, and ambition. And as we play these games we unconsciously overlook anyone who is seemingly too weak to play according to our rules. We overcompensate for our fear of sincere powerlessness and limitation and in turn we are blinded to the naked beauty of our true selves.
I often recognize in myself and others that we may even use all the right language of powerlessness and humility even while subtly competing to one up the rhetoric of our peers.
In his book, Adam's Return, Richard Rohr explains that many will continue playing this game until "it finally backfires into anger, depression, and various forms of scapegoating and violence." Of course, the ever so subtle and ultra convenient manifestation of this within our time is found in the blue-faced glow of late night escapes into porn or video games.
Within our good works of ministry we must find pockets of solitude, a monastic cell in which we just might catch our egos in the act. It's in these moments that we'll likely be drawn to the realm of the awkward and uncool those little ones who float outside the atmosphere of male egotism.
"If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would be seen as it is." ~ William Blake