At the Table in the “Man Box”

December 10, 2010

In this video, Tony Porter, educator, activist, and co-founder of A Call to Men gives a ten minute presentation on masculinity and violence.  It’s introductory, but there are some good stories.  He introduces the concept of the “man box,” the normative way of performing masculinity that boys in our cultures generally learn.

Now, if Holy Communion in its current forms does anything, it shores up the authority of those who are leading it.  We don’t draw attention to this aspect in worship, but it’s actually quite central to the way Holy Communion works.  Everyone who participates learns how to do this meal: the leaders get to lead the prayers, handle the holy food (breaking and pouring the body of Jesus), and distribute it to the rest of us.  We all have this ingrained through our participation (even if it annoys us).

In most church contexts, where men preside and women either help in subordinate roles or sit out, there is an intimate connection between the performance of masculinity as dominating, hierarchical, and maintaining the prerogative of violence, and the performance of presiding at Holy Communion.   This is nothing new.  Theologians like Marjorie Procter-Smith have been pointing this out for decades.  What Tony Porter reminds us is that the performance of masculinity can be a cage for men as well.  We may not easily see the ways in which presiding performs/reinforces the “man box,” but we go along with it every time we join in.  Is it any wonder that many churches, even liberal churches, rarely have women preside, if ever?

As you watch the video, I encourage you to consider how the “man box” impacts your life, and how it impacts Holy Communion.

I have three sons.  I got to the end of this video and cried.  You got a problem with that?  🙂

Tony Porter: A call to men | Video on TED.com.

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