At Mennonite Church USA's biannual convention, Mennonite Men engaged with convention attendees in two in-person seminars. The first seminar explored tree planting as a way for congregations to engage in creation care and the second addressed issues of healthy masculinity and identity.
On Wednesday, July 7, Steve Thomas, U.S. director of Mennonite Men Men, led a seminar on planting trees to help restore the earth. Thomas led participants in discussion on the critical place of trees in God's creation, evident in the fact that the very first and last chapters of the Bible feature the trees of life. Based on a long list of their benefits for our communities and ecosystems, participants recognized the importance of planting and protecting trees. Thomas then presented how people can participate in the Mennonite Men JoinTrees campaign to plant one million trees by 2030 to help slow climate change and restore the earth.
On Thursday, July 8, Thomas led a seminar discussing the phrase, "Be a man." While men and boys are often told to be a man, what does this mean? Thinking of conventional masculinity in American culture, participants responded that "real men" are assertive, allowed to be angry, independent, strong, invulnerable, sex obsessed, don't cry, don't apologize, dominate, have guns, and drive truck, among other things. Participants examined what boys and men are called who don't fit in the "man box" and how this affects them. And they considered how this kind of masculinity impacts other genders. Thomas expressed that it was especially helpful to hear from women who were in this seminar.
Seminar participants then identified traits of healthy masculinity and what Jesus modeled. Participants stated that "good men" are caring, compassionate, serve, express feelings other than anger, are inclusive, respectful, confident, empathetic, loving, selfless, able to confess and apologize, and listen, among other traits. The contrast and tensions between these two ways of being men became evident. Participants imagined what our world would be like if more men embodied these traits of healthy masculinity more than what conventional masculinity calls for. They imagined a world with more respect, love, justice and peace.
This exercise was drawn from the digital version of new book Strong, Loving, and Wise: Joining Conversations for Men that Mennonite Men will be publishing this fall. A print version of the book will be available later this year.