"Hi-yo Silver - away!" Hardly the last gasp of a celebrated celluloid cowboy. Yet, John Reid, the masked rider in TV's "The Lone Ranger," came within inches of losing not only his life, but his spirit as well.
It was Tonto, Reid's Good Samaritan, who nursed the Texas Ranger back to health following a desperado-led ambush that left all five of Reid's ranger buddies dead.
A selfless act of heroism by one man produced an unshakeable alliance. As Scripture tells us, "Two are better than one….If the one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary man!" (Ecclesiastes 4: 9 - 10) The trusty Tonto pointed the way to a transformed Texas Ranger. Reid's nickname no longer fit. The "loner, do as you please, I like it that way" persona faded in the sunset. We can imagine Reid was all the better for it - emotionally, spiritually, and personally. Reid now had a definite purpose in life - avenging the deaths of his posse buddies and righting wrongs throughout the Old West. Could he have accomplished those feats without the support of another?
It's been my experience that men do need other men - and not merely to weather a crisis or satisfy some professional self-interest. Men need other men to serve as mentors and comrades in life. They crave the camaradery and vital connection, and yes, acceptance that males - and only males, are able to give. Yet our impersonal, profit-driven, dog-eat-dog world undervalues, even outright dismisses this innate human need deep within men's souls. As a result, many of America's Joes, Jims, and Jasons have become the archetypal "lone" rangers feeling alone, frustrated, frequently friendless, and figuring "That's just the way things are" - but, do they have to be?
The absence of male support has made it especially tough for single guys - struggling to maintain moral integrity, personal responsibility, and purity in their lives. The pitfalls of loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, not being special to someone else - all of these can, and often do, drain men of purpose in life. They can even cause inner conflicts over masculine identity, self-image, and self-worth. Many guys discover their interminable ache of unconnectedness with other men triggers bouts of sexual compulsion, narcissism, depression, and even unhealthy anger.
Yet, in all of this, our institutional structures, the places we would think would be most adept at pulling men together in ongoing fellowship - our churches - have either failed or not gone the necessary distance to bolster men's connectedness. There's been benign neglect within the Church to create genuine, relational revelry, or just plain fun, among our male memberships. Consequently, men are left to their own devices, to be their own cheerleaders in fighting the fires of isolation and alienation so common today.
Scripture tells us to assist our neighbor and to embolden him to "be of good courage," in every way possible. (Isaiah 41: 6) Yet, the culture teaches men in subliminal, sometimes overt ways, to white knuckle it, not to reach out and, if anything, to look out for number one - and never, never telegraph the need for male companionship and long-term friendship.
This independent streak men are told to adopt flies in the face of God's creative intent for our lives - to be social, to be compassionate, to "love one another" in tangible ways. St. Paul insisted that to fulfill the law of Christ, brothers had to "help carry one another's burdens." (Galatians 6:2) However, men are lulled into thinking that intimate relationships are simply a female frontier, that men just don't nurture intimacy amongst themselves - and if they do, it undermines their masculine identity, and even invites undesirable homoerotic feelings
Is there any wonder, then, that some therapists have claimed a major cause for men's empty, wounded feelings has been the absence of praise and physical affection from dads and /or the lack of affirmation from peers while growing up? These male personality deficits coupled with the realities of a disintegrating nuclear family (more kids living apart from their fathers) have only compounded the problem. What remains is more loneliness and sadness among youth. For single guys, the sting of perpetual boredom weekend after weekend while living life on the periphery of the family culture, causes further desolation and hopelessness.
Yet families - including the married men within them - stand to gain greatly by opening their homes and hearts to male single adults, a new extended family. The sporadic, but blessed moments when I have been invited into a family's inner circle, great joy and mutuality have resulted. Couples witness firsthand the benefits singles can offer them and their children - as surrogate cousins, uncles, even grandparents to kids in need of healthy male role models, as people offering varied interests and perspectives for teachable moments, and as people with more flexible schedules that can help out in a pinch.
In return, singles can achieve a greater sense of belonging; possibly, a family to spend holidays with, a restored zest for life, and reassurance that they do count and are appreciated. These kinds of arrangements have potential for enriching families and singles alike.
However, including singles in the ordinary events of families isn't the only way in which men can connect in wholesome ways. Simply encouraging men to get together, to be together - on a regular basis, with no strings attached - can strengthen the spirits and lives of married and single alike. These get-togethers needn't be formal, nor task-oriented as in a club or Bible-study (in fact, those types of groups rarely promote male relationships with any substance or longevity). The best get-togethers are simple ones, such as eating a meal, celebrating a birthday, playing cards, or organizing spontaneous sporting activities among men. The goal is to have fun. To play. To enjoy the sheer pleasure of wholesome male bonding. No heavy issues to discuss. No agendas. Just plain old-fashioned fraternity. Men in the company of other men. I've tasted some of this delightful camaradery in the past, and there is nothing more affirming, emotionally stabilizing, and freeing then men being real to other men and interacting in healthy, supportive ways.
Again, our churches could be the catalysts for transforming many lives for the better through these healthy partnerships. It's not an easy task, but a crucial one for men who feel alienated, and who seek relief from their "developmental deficits," mistrust, and disappointments with some males. Many guys will have to learn and relearn the skills necessary to maintain reliable, steadfast, and mutually interdependent relationships with other men. They may even have to reorient their thinking - be less defensive and more open-minded, and more self-giving - for the phantoms of unfounded fears, easy excuses, natural tendencies to resist change and, last but not least, the "coach potato" syndrome ("I'd rather veg out in front of the television") all pose formidable challenges to the quest for legitimate male bonding.
As a friend of mine so aptly put it in one of my exasperated moments, "Guys play it pretty close to the vest. We're not gushingly emotional; we move slowly…You make friends by becoming a man who isn't concerned about what he needs, but what he can do for others." Coincidentally, the original TV lone ranger, Clayton Moore, had as his #1 tenet in his Lone Ranger Creed, the familiar maxim "that to have a friend, a man must be one." Are we willing to move out of our comfort zones to help single men reach their full potentials and to strengthen their male identities and relationships?
The ultimate exemplar of male friendship is history's greatest figure - Jesus Christ. He lived the solitary life - celibate, but sociable; sensitive and undeniably loyal to those around Him. Wherever He went, the Savior of mankind radiated love - unconditional love - like no other human being. Many of Jesus' own disciples were single men who learned the importance of brotherhood and the vital need for interdependence and staying connected - and for more than just a season. These men were friends of Jesus. Jesus was their friend. He's our friend always. Christ proved this by submitting to the cruelest of deaths - agony on the Cross. The Epistle to the Hebrews stresses the importance of being there for our brothers: "Encourage one another daily while it is still today, so that no one grows hardened by the deceit of sin." (Hebrews 3: 13)
The story of David and Jonathan in the Book of Samuel is another striking example of genuine fidelity and brotherly love. In his treatise on Spiritual Friendship, medieval monk Aelred of Rievaulx describes the outcome when David comes under attack from Jonathan's father, Saul, who was king of Israel. Jonathan didn't shrink from his moral obligations. Aelred writes, "Putting himself at the service of his friend, he (Jonathan) offered help and advice in his time of need….In his great love, this young man kept faith with his friend. He was steadfast in the face of threats, unmoved by insults; forgetting renown, he thought only of service. He spurned a kingdom for the sake of friendship."
Lone rangers have learned to be realists. We don't expect "perfect" friendship in life. We do expect men to look beyond themselves, to consider the needs of another - to widen the company of men for the benefit of all.