Thursday, March 21, 2024

An old word. . . but a good one

Honestly, I cannot recall that last time I read or heard this word.  Pusillanimous.  I know that I have probably never typed this word before and have said it a few precious times.  Last I can recall, Spiro T. Agnew used the word.  That was at least 50 years ago.  This adjective's earliest known use is in the Middle English period (1150—1500).  It comes from Latin pusillus, meaning "very small" and animus, meaning "spirit".  It is one of those great words that should be used and there is not single English equivalent in our modern vocabulary.  I guess small-minded might fit.  Or petty.  According to the dictionary, pusillanimous means:

  1. Lacking courage; cowardly.
  2. Destitute of a manly or courageous strength and firmness of mind; of weak spirit; mean-spirited; spiritless; cowardly; 
  3. Evincing, or characterized by, weakness of mind, and want of courage; feeble.

So to be pusillanimous means to lack courage, to be faint of heart, weak, and immature, unable to respond generously to the gifts you have been given or strongly to the challenges in your path.  This is the vice that makes strong men weak and smart men foolish.  We live in a world filled with pusillanimous people, even leaders, especially political.  But this is also true of the Church and her leaders.  Yet, it is most problematic among men who seem to stand for little and to back down over less.

There is in many ways a crisis of masculinity that vexes both culture and religion.  It is a vice now seen as a virtue -- pusillanimous men.  Intent upon navel gazing and introspection, they have forgotten who they are, what they stand for, and how to stand at all.  The men of today are more content to retreat than advance either cause or view.  It shows up in the leadership that has largely been taken over by women.  From the honors of valedictorian to salutatorian to the numbers who complete degree programs to the folks who step up to serve civic and religious organizations as leaders, men are surrendering their manly courage and firm minds to become or act weak willed and cowardly.  While this is pathetic in the political sphere, it is a crisis in the home and in the Church.

We need men.  We need men who will lead.  We need men of firm conviction.  I am not speaking here of brutes but of those with courage to take risks and to lead by example.  Indeed, without such spine and spirit, men have become meaner and more cruel.  Deferring to women is not simply a choice but an abdication of their place and purpose in creation.  When we began to insist that the gender roles of male and female were not so different or not so typically ordered, we ended up not simply with a cookie cutter mentality but with men who are rather useless.  According to surveys they seem fearful of commitment and content to watch from the sidelines (or rather watch their screens) instead of participating in the political, domestic, and religious communities and the inherent debates over such things as truth and identity.

Go into the average home in America and a woman bears the greater burden for the well-being of the children and for providing for those in the family -- all the while juggling the usual domestic roles that women have never quite been able to ditch.  Go into the average church in America and you find yourself in a predominantly female setting in which the men have learned to either hide or bury their masculinity.  Where are the men?  Recruiters for the military and even for the ministry are telling us it is hard to get men to step up -- though this is in part because we do not want them to serve as men, only as pusillanimous men who have confessed their masculinity as shame and vowed not to exercise it. Again, we are not talking about justifying bigotry or brutishness but the strength of resolute hearts and minds, endowed with courage and confidence, and willing to sacrifice the cost of such singlemindedness.  I, for one, miss them.


1 comment:

Quiet Corner of Connecticut said...

Pastor Peters, today's blog is spot on about our church, our country...

Men need to step up and instead of stepping back...

God bless your ministry... From the Quiet Corner of Connecticut!