Author Paul Coughlin explains how many Christian men have come to falsely believe that passivity is a biblical virtue, and encourages those men to courageously engage their families, community and the culture at large. (Part 2 of 2)
Paul Coughlin: Well, I'm just gonna live small. If I live small, my troubles will be few. And that is the motto of passivity. When in reality, it's really good at the beginning, because you have no power in your life and you better live small, 'cause you're gonna get more abuse, but when you become an adult with an adult responsibility, it's a horrible road map for life.
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John Fuller: A provocative comment from Paul Coughlin and he's back with us today on "Focus on the Family," once again, challenging us not to be really nice and if you're intrigued, stay with us. Your host is Focus president, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I really appreciated the conversation last time. We touched on a lot of things. It was kind of rapid fire and if you didn't hear the program last time, get a download. Get the CD. Take a listen to it. If this is something that you think your husband should hear, get a copy. This is a great conversation starter to kind of live in our world a bit and then to help us better understand those things that we might have some blind spots. We talked last time about that confusion in the culture today around masculinity, the idea that the word "masculinity" is only 100-, 150-years-old. That was kind of a shock.
John: I was interested in that, yeah.
Jim: And then passivity, how we at times as men, we can hide behind that. And really what it is, is disconnecting emotionally, spiritually from our environment. The idea that Jesus modeled a tender and tough masculinity, I mean, something that I want to aspire to, to be that guy that brings truth, but brings it with tenderness. Paul, our guest, also was abused as a child, talked a bit about the impact of that. And I related to that. I understand that environment, where you're kind of the bottom of the totem pole and you feel it and you know it and what do you do about it? I thought that was a tender moment. And today, we're gonna continue that discussion.
John: Well, Paul Coughlin is an author, speaker. He's a journalist and a coach and heads up a faith-based anti-bullying program for schools. And it's called The Protectors. He wrote a book that we've mentioned several times yesterday. It's called No More Christian Nice Guy and the subtitle is, When Being Nice Instead of Good Hurts Men, Women and Children.
Jim: Paul, welcome back to the program.
Paul: It is great to be here, thank you.
Jim: Man, we touched on so many things again. Let's open with a recap on that good versus nice, for those that didn't catch it yesterday, so they can better understand what in the world are we talkin' about.
Paul: Yeah, so genuine niceness, you know, is associated with gentleness and related virtues. And we need more gentleness and kindness. That is for sure, but in many cases, many times, what we consider to be nice behavior is really passivity and cowardice in disguise. And I know, because I was chief among those sinners. That was my (Laughing) life for a pretty good time and it doesn't lead to the abundant life Jesus wants for us.
Jim: When you look at passivity and that place that we go hide, what does that look like today? What is a man who's hiding and being passive, describe it?
Paul: Yeah, well, he's not going to express his emotions, either high or low. He's going to clip both of them because in many cases, many times, it's because he just fears emotional display, as I did. When I would see other people like cry, for example, I just wanted to leave the room because it was really a very scary thing to me, very scary thing to me.
Now on the other side of the nice versus good, because fear has been largely dealt a pretty strong blow in my life, now because I'm not as fearful as I used to be, I can get into those good behaviors and those good behaviors are like weeping with those who weep, being fully human, being fully integrated, great sex. You're not gonna have really intimate sex as a Christian nice guy. It just isn't gonna happen.
Paul: Well, it demands some creativity. It demands an incredible level of tenderness. It requires risk to be intimate with your wife. And these are things that Christian nice guys and girls they're just not interested in. They didn't sign up for that.
Jim: Paul, when you talk about that spectrum of emotion, so often in the culture and certainly even in the Christian culture, we tend with little boys, we have tried to narrow that. I can remember when my mom died and I was 9. I remember the one thing that most people told me was, "Be a big boy; don't cry."
Paul: Oh, my goodness.
Jim: And I can remember my whole day at that funeral was built on trying to be a man. And I thought and I was told over and over and over again that day, that to be a good man was to mean I would not shed a tear. And I was fighting those tears back, looking into my mom's casket, thinking okay, I gotta be a man. I gotta be a man. And then turning and seeing all those people at the funeral as I turned from the casket and then walked down the aisle by myself and thought don't cry. Don't cry. Don't cry. But we do that damage to our children by not letting them just be and experience life as it comes.
Paul: What happened there is a perversion. That more than damage; that's a perversion of the human soul. We are created as emotional beings. We're not Spock. We have an emotional capacity given to us by God and we're supposed to deploy that and use that for His will and ultimately to His glory.
And I was one of those kids, too. Like I said in the last episode there I don't really trust people who don't know how to cry. Now we're not talking about, of course, being a SNAG, a Sensitive New Age Guy, right (Laughter), where you weep at everything and we're talking about appropriate places where we should we should cry. We should show deep emotion.
We're not talking about just getting' upset, you know, when your cable bill goes up $3.50 a month, you know. We're talking about appropriate real things that just make sense. And in fact, guys, women would find us weird if we don't show emotions. And this is what we have found over and over in the work that we've done since the release of the book. These wives are like, "My husband isn't even human. He won't even express emotion when people close to him die." That makes you weird. It makes us men weird in the eyes of women. And why? Because it is weird.
Jim: In that way, Paul, how does a parent, let's talk about mom, to be that healthier role model for boys, particularly, how does mom help her little boy grow into a more godly man?
Paul: Yeah, let's not drive the warrior ethos out of kids. And that's what we've done. You ask a little kid what they want to be, a boy or a girl. You ask a boy, it's usually something with the warrior ethos that say, "I want to be a police officer," a firefighter. They want to be a protector type of thing. And girls, something often a little more nurturing that they want to do. This doesn't make one better than the other. It's complementary and that doesn't mean women can't be a police officers and all that kind of stuff.
Realize that without that manly energy going through that boy, that he will not be able to lead his family well later on. Men are designed to draw boundaries, ideally. Father Time, look what Father Time carries with him--an hourglass and a sickle. Sickles cleave. The most rigid thing in this world is time. You can't fake it. So, Father Time represents the stronger boundaries of life. Men tend to represent those things.
When a father says to a child, "You need to do it by 8:30 because I said so," without being a bully, that is a gift of love, because when our children leave our home, little Joanie and little Johnny, they're not gonna be special. I know, I get to coach these kids, whose parents think they're special.
Paul: I want to give them a T-shirt that says, "Does Not Play Well With Others." It would get rid of the ambiguity, right? (Laughter) The world's not gonna think our kids are special. And so, when that father energy, when we demand that they do things in a certain way, that's because the world is going to demand it. And it's a gift of love to our kids, as long as we're not a bully about it.
Jim: Paul, let's drill into the Christian home, because you know, we could spend all day talking about the ills of the world, but—
Jim: --the things that we should be able to control which is within, you know, our homes, our attitudes, those kinds of things. Where are we getting this wrong? Why are many of the people that you see coming from Christian homes, especially teen boys, 20-something young men, who fathers that were tough on them, what are we doing? What are we modeling?
Paul: Well, let me answer that with this. The book's been out for about 10 years now and I offered individual instruction for people who would read the book and wanted more help and I would help 'em and I found that there was a pattern. And the No. 1 group of men that I worked with were sons of pastors.
Paul: And these are people who, in many cases, have a persona, but not a personality. "Persona" means "mask," if I'm not mistaken.
Jim: What do you mean by that though? Let me make sure I catch it clearly.
Paul: They don't have a full personality. They realized and I think that this is what we demand in church and it's so unfair to the leaders of the church, we demand that they can't have the same struggles that we do. (Laughing) And we do want them to live in a high plane. Don't get me wrong, but we have to let them be human. And I think what many of them have realized is, we can't be fully honest with our congregations.
Paul: And so my family's gonna learn how to put on appearances in order to avoid, you know, some criticism, legitimate or illegitimate criticism. I'm not even sure it matters, to tell you the truth. And so, these kids, they just learn it. That's usually through osmosis. No one ever comes out and says, "Hey, I want you to put on this persona." But they tend to see it from their parents usually and then they realize, this is how I get through this. This is how I get through this difficult time.
You want to talk about eroding the pulpit. My goodness, you're robbing it of future generations. And then they become these nice pastors and nice pastors don't know how to say no. "No" is a spiritual word. The best people we know say no. Now they say it with truth and grace and love, but they say no. They don't know how to say no. We've been taught to "over yes." The big reason why is, we've been given a caricature of Jesus.
Jim: What happens to us when we "over-yes" ourselves?
Paul: We begin to fragment, I think, psychologically, if we are expected to lead our families with our kids and our wives, we allow people to trample over our homes. I used to hide behind a horrible Scripture. Oh, it's so embarrassing now. My wife, who is a very assertive lady, I used to say, "Baby, you could teach assertiveness training classes," when we first got married. It wasn't a compliment. (Laughter) And so, I would hide behind this one Scripture, "Let your forbearing spirit be made known to all men." And that's what I would tell my wife. I said, "Well, the reason I didn't say anything is I was just being a good Christian."
No, the reason I didn't say anything was that I was committed the sin of cowardice, Revelation 21:8. God puts cowards in the same category as liars, thieves and adulterers and sorcerers. Their lot is the second death in the burning lake of sulfur. I don't know what that is, but I know it's not good. I don't want to be vacationing on its shores. I was committing the sin of cowardice.
Jim: So many of us men will hear that and we're tryin' to get ahold of that. Am I doing that? How do we know if we are?
Paul: You're lying. You're lying to yourself and you're lying to other people. I think once you begin to become aware that you're not being truthful with yourself and other people, that is a big step. And then you need to find out, why am I this way? For me, it was a good amount of inordinate fear. Fear is a good thing, but too much of it is awful. Fear keeps us alive and it kills us. It's pretty crazy. And I just realized that I was just doing crazy things, thinking crazy things because of fear. And I will just say and this may be provocative, but when fear was dealt a substantial blow in my life, it was like being born again, again. It was the second most important, I think, event in my life personally.
Jim: How did you come to that moment? What was the catalyst?
Paul: A counselor who, you know, to those of us who don't understand these concepts, when you're on the receiving end of abuse, all of this is a mystery. It's a fog. But to those people who have seen it; they've been seasoned counselors, it's another day in the office, you know. And they're saying often the same things, that they've been saying for the last 10 or 20 years. The Scripture tells us to seek wisdom higher than our own. And that is what I did by going to go see a counselor. And I'll say this. I would've sinned if I didn't see a counselor. I was sinning if I didn't.
Jim: Paul, I really resonate with that idea of being more real. I think, you know, to a degree, it may be impossible in this world to be absolutely real. I don't even—
Jim: --know what that means 'cause you're always, you know, not telling that person he's fat or she's fat. (Laughing) I mean, you're not gonna do that.
Paul: Especially if it's your wife.
Jim: Well, yeah. So, there is wisdom in how you express yourself.
Jim: But that spiritual side of being real and being honest and showing your kids that vulnerability, those are all important things. In fact, you talked about the damage being done to your kids when you were living in this passive foxhole.
Jim: What damage is there and what do we need to be aware of?
Paul: Well, I wasn't guiding them to being fully human. I wasn't guiding them to this enveloping or blossoming of a person's personality.
I would see other fathers who, when their kids were upset, they would get upset with their child. That is a good thing to do. It confirms within the soul of that child, these are real things in my life and I'm being loved. I'm being loved to the point where my dad has red eyes, where he's got some tears. That wasn't me and I knew that was right 'cause I saw other men who I respected, who were that way. And again, they weren't Sensitive New Age Guys (Laughing), cryin' at everything. They just were emotionally viable individuals. So, I wanted to be that for my children.
And I underwent some of this difficult work to more that way. Another thing that I started doing was pointing out the real Jesus of the Bible. He's not a nice guy. Jesus is a good guy. Jesus was far more revolutionary and tough and tender than we give Him credit for. And I would recommend starting in the Gospel of Mark. Mark is like written by Hemingway. It's just very straightforward. There's no genealogies and all that kind of stuff. It starts off like a race car.
And I think we really need to stop giving our children a nice Jesus, because eventually a nice Jesus is a bore. We're all familiar with the stats of kids who leave the Christian homes and walk away from the faith. I don't know all the reasons for that. I know one reason. We've given 'em a nice Jesus instead of a good Jesus. A nice Jesus after a while doesn't capture your allegiance. A good Jesus, that's a whole 'nother story.
John: Well, some interesting insights from Paul Coughlin on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. And we'll encourage you to get his book, No More Christian Nice Guy, along with a CD or download of the conversation and while you're at the website, check out The Family Project, our video series which addresses many of these same themes that we're talkin' about today—gender issues, how God designed the family to work and the important role of faith in the family. All of these resources and more at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Paul, let me throw out a couple maybe controversial discussion points. One is David. I'm often intrigued by David because here's this guy who was a military guy.
Jim: I mean, he knew how to go take a city and he knew how to decimate that city and to take spoils of that city. He knew how to get men around him, tough men. This would be Seal Team 6 kind of guys—
Jim: --to get around him and go do the job that needed to be done. And yet, at the same time, he committed the big no-no's, adultery, murder. And yet, God said, David's heart was for Him. A lot of seemingly contradictory things going on there, but I'm beginning to understand it I think, a bit better.
David was all out for God. He had his issues and his problems, but when he was confronted with those sins, being real, he looked to himself and his own shortcomings. He didn't blame his mother and father for his affair or for killing the husband of the woman he had the affair with. He took it upon himself. And there's something courageous about that, even though it was absolutely wrong and he knew he was gonna bear the consequence of that. It was like he lived a full life and God liked that—
Jim: --even though he fell short.
Paul: You know, yeah, David is one of those guys. David has given me hope that there's hope for me. It's like, well, if he could be after God's own heart, maybe I can be as well, because he did some horrible things. There's no doubt about that. David represents to me the third part of what it means to be human. And it's seen in the greatest movie, the most-watched movie of all time, The Wizard of Oz.
We tend to think that we're two-part people, entities, the ability to think or reason found in our mind, logos would be one thing we would say there. Emotional capacity, we say found in the heart, eros, being one of those emotional capacities. But actually, we're three-part beings. There's a third part in what it means to be human and the Greeks called it thumos, T-H-U-M-O-S. It's where we get today's word for "thermos." And that is found they said in the chest and the lungs.
C.S. Lewis wrote about this in The Abolition of Man, men without chests. And in this thumotic capacity is courage. It's animation. It's pugnacity. It's willfulness. And we don't really speak to that much. David spoke to that. We do not follow men who are not thumotic, because a non-courageous man is an unreliable man when it comes to leadership.
Jim: Yet, at the same time, as we talked about last time, that courage and how it's defined can be blurry nowadays because we're thinking nice is a sign of being courageous, as opposed to assertive and properly confrontational.
Let me get the other controversial part here, because I like this analogy. I don't know if it's accurate, something that I think about in my quiet times, but I thought a lot about Peter and about Stephen. And you see Peter coming into the Garden, particularly. He's doing what most of us guys would want to do. They're comin' after the Son of God. Well, I'm gonna pull my sword out and I'm gonna deal with these guys. And he goes I think to go for the jugular. I don't think he was going to cut off his ear.
Paul: Yeah (Chuckling).
Jim: But I think he was goin' to slice the guy's throat and the guy darts a little and Peter gets his ear. Jesus heals the man's ear, rebukes Peter for doing it that way, which to me, is the human way. It's the ungodly way, which is an irony to me. It's forceful. It's manly, but Jesus rebukes him. And then Stephen later, being filled with the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, having the character of God living inside of him, which to Peter's defense, he hadn't experience that yet, so he was still living out of his humanness.
But there's Stephen, laying his life down, people are stoning him and killing him for the cause of Christ. Yet, he has the presence of mind to pray for those. He didn't stand up defiantly toward those people. He kind of humbly, with courage, prayed that God would open their hearts and forgive 'em. And then it says, the heavens opened up and Jesus was standing. And I interpret that as a standing ovation, that Stephen was doing it so well, not in a military sense, but had so much courage to lay his life down for those people. And I think unwittingly, there was Saul watching that. God had the plan laid out. Stephen's life was not lost for nothing. Saul saw that, probably pierced his heart to say, where would this man find the courage to pray for those who are killing Him? Talk about that difference.
Paul: Well, what's really interesting there is in that same Scripture in Acts, we're actually told that the Holy Spirit moved upon Stephen to disagree with his audience. Now you said that he did so humbly. I agree; I agree, as well. You can disagree forcefully with someone without fire. The great expression, "Why use a hammer, when a screwdriver will work?" So, I think Stephen is still in the Spirit, but the Spirit actually drew him in the confrontation.
Jesus created confrontation with the man with the withered hand. He didn't have to heal him on that … on the Sabbath. He could've waited but He didn't. He actually pulled the man with the withered hand into the middle of the room to heal him. Jesus created conflict, but it's righteous conflict. It was for love. It was for truth. It was for justice. It was for compassion, unlike much of our conflict. What's most of ours about? My personal selfish will and my own petulance. So, there's a big difference there. When we're talkin' about this, I call it blessed confrontation, and in this blessed confrontation, it is to fulfill the will of God. It's His will, not our own.
Jim: When you look at that, so often the example that people have expressed to me that shows God being tough on the world would be the money changers. I always make the argument, I'm not so sure because they're in the Temple and they're selling doves for sacrifice. I see that in more what I would describe, if I could, as Christian associations. I remember being at one of these big shows with five, 10,000 people at a conference. And they were selling a toaster that would emblazon the face of Jesus onto your grilled cheese sandwich. And they called it the "Grilled Jesus."
I think He would've turned that table over, to be blunt with you, 'cause that's a diminishing of who God is. You know, somebody there was making some money off a brilliant toaster, I guess, but I respond with that. I said, that would be the type of person, in my opinion, or the type of situation where Jesus would be tryin' to rectify. Don't turn something holy into something unholy. What your toast looks like is so insignificant in this life. That would be offensive, I think to the Lord.
Paul: Oh boy, I can only say amen to that. We are, I think as men, we are required. We are made by God to be protective of other people. And we're not protective just through a phony horse grin. We are protective due to our behavior and how we stand up for other people.
When Mary was being bullied, most theologians believe it was Judas who was doing it, 'cause it says the disciples. So, it was probably Judas. Jesus didn't stand there passively. He went up to probably it is Judas and said, "Leave her alone." Jesus stood up on behalf of the weak and the vulnerable and we are commissioned and expected to do the same.
Jim: And that's a good reminder of what it's about to be a courageous man, who followed Christ. I mean, that's what it is, that courage that we talk about. You've done a wonderful job challenging us men in this area of what it means to be a good husband, a good father, by being fully emotionally integrated, weeping with those who weep, loving those people that are unlovable and demonstrating God's heart to a hurting culture. Thank you for those reminders.
Paul: Oh, well, it is my pleasure. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
John: Well, what an insightful couple of days we've had here with Paul Coughlin and I do hope you'll get a copy of his book, so that you yourself or perhaps a son or a friend can benefit from his perspectives in these stories about becoming a godly, courageous man in Christ. Again, the title is No More Christian Nice Guy and we've got details about it along with a CD or download of this program at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . Or call us and we'd be happy to tell you more. Our number, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
You know, what we've talked about is something that's kinda difficult to live out in day-to-day life and you can be a courageous man or woman, but the world doesn't seem to be helping you do that, does it? It's a storm, if you will of moral values swirling around and people picking and choosing what they want to believe. And it would be pretty easy to lose track of the fact that God is in control. He's sovereign and his truth never changes.
Now here at Focus, we're committed to proclaiming that message of truth, unwavering truth and of assuring people that peace is possible in the middle of the storm that we're experiencing--the peace that passes understanding and it's found in Jesus Christ. And I hope you'll join us in sharing this Good News with other families. They need to know that they can carry on, even though the tidal wave seems to be breaking right over them.
One way you can do that is through your financial support of Focus on the Family. Now thanks to the generosity of some special friends, there's a limited time opportunity for you to effectively double your gift to Focus. They've decided that they believe so much in the mission of Focus, that they'll match your gift dollar for dollar right now. So, your donation will go twice as far as usual in strengthening marriages and empowering parents and helping people grow in their faith.
In addition to that matching opportunity, if you donate today, we'll say thank you by sending a complimentary copy of today's resource, No More Christian Nice Guy. It's a great tool for you to have or to pass on to someone and it's one more reason to contribute today. Please donate generously when you're at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, thanking you for joining us and inviting you back tomorrow for a look at how your entire family could be a powerful witness for Christ. That's next time when we once again, help your family thrive.
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Paul CoughlinView Bio
Paul Coughlin is an author, an international speaker and the founder and president of The Protectors, which is dedicated to helping schools, organizations and communities combat bullying. His books include No More Christian Nice Guy, Raising Bully-Proof Kids and 5 Secrets Great Dads Know. Paul and his wife, Sandy, reside in southern Oregon and have three teenage children. Learn more about Paul and his organization at www.theprotectors.org.