Reflecting as one Kiwi at a 550 men’s Wild@Heart Boot Camp, Mt Hermon, California, Feb 2013.
Settling in to Session One on Thursday evening, we’re gathered in an attractive rustic hall surrounded by 2500 year-old ‘baby’ sequoia redwoods. The stage is framed by two large logs, pierced each by two menacing Scottish claymores (the two-handed weapon of Highland warriors ala Braveheart). Last of the Mohicans is playing as an ambient theme as we enter and find our pews. The star and author of Wild@Heart sits next to me as the lights go out and the first movie clip plays on the screen. The session opens with Russell Crowe Robin Hood and Mel Gibson Braveheart clips (so, an Australian actor theme goin’ on here. Real men come from Down Under. Tick).
Matters are not hyped; John Eldredge is casual, of slight build (like the puking GI in the Liberty Ship headed straight for Omaha beach in the opening of Saving Private Ryan, another used clip. That guy is still there with a rifle in hand, though, armed and dangerous. Y’see, masculinity is not about size, as Robin Hood understood when he nick-named “Little John”). John Eldredge is not Arnold Swartzenegger; he has ten times the heart than that poser. He’s funny, real, practical. He uses the F-word (contextually) and “holy cr**p” a couple of times; he’s good at getting to the heart of REAL things; the way it REALLY is. This is good oil. He is unconventional, talks about Jesus in a way that we all love and know inside is true (that Christ is a warrior and picked fights with religious bigots and pharisees).
The central message is that the bloody warrior David the psalmist followed God because God set his heart free – a verse from Psalms that John E. circles back to at the end. There is criticism of the emasculation of men, the idiocy of religious churchdom. The point is reiterated with a powerful contrasting video of Mr Rogers (child entertainer in a zip-up cardi.) as suburban television singing wimp juxtaposed with Braveheart. After the session Wild@Heart has organised cigars around outdoor campfires for those men who want them. This is no Southern Baptist Convention!
At dinner I sit next to Geoff and David (not their real names); they’re both from California. David is Jewish; Greg is of Greek extraction, an ex Harley-Davidson biker with blond goatee and dirty dog sunnies packing a 9 millimeter. Geoff, Dave and I connect immediately. Love flows out of these men. One is an ex pastor from Avila Beach (where Bugs Bunny used to holiday). One is a private detective, but like Murray, freshly broke, at 61; his house foreclosed a few months ago. On the day of foreclosure, an Asian man buys his home and leases it back to him (a small miracle). One was abused as a young boy by his older brother, and then his father. He is deeply wounded and suffers from sleep apnea. (The three of us retreat later to his bunk room and pray for him, gathered next to his sleep apnea device, asking for healing, peace and physical freedom at night). We engage at a deep level, talking over catfish (it is delicious) and beef, about the deepest hues of life: fathers, wounds, wives, warriors, wildness. This is what I have come for, to meet men that are deep, caring, to find the heart of manhood and share it with a Band of Brothers in the cauldron of real life, buffeted by troubles and trials.