Rite of Passage
Without a doubt, I have a few bad habits, and it seams that bad habits are a lot easier to maintain than good habits are, precisely because it is; bad habits require little effort to maintain but good habits require effort and dedication. One of the good habits that I have been able to maintain with a fair amount of success is keeping a journal, and sometimes I go years without missing a single day, but this is not one of those years. .
I can’t tell you how many times I have thought I correctly remembered how something happened only to go back and read my journal entry for that day and realize that I remembered the event completely wrong. This episode is not about journal keeping, or even about memory or how our current paradigm colors and changes our perceived reality of the past, all of which could be interesting and noteworthy topics, but rather I am mentioning journaling because it is a jumping off point to what I want to talk about since today’s topic is something I recently was thinking about and wrote my thoughts about it in my journal.
A few days ago I wrote in my journal about how a lot of cultures have a coming of age rituals or rite of passage to mark the transition from child to adult and how and why I think it is important to celebrate or mark the transition to adulthood. What I wrote in my journal is the most basic of thoughts on the subject, just the bare minimum to understand my mindset on the issue and why I was thinking about it in the first place.
What got me to thinking about the subject of rite of passage was a podcast I was listening to where as part of the conversation right of passage rituals were mentioned. One of the events or rite of passage that marks the transition from child to adult that was discussed on that particular episode was about the ritual the Sateré-Mawé, people who live in the Amazon rain forest of Brazil. In the Mawé culture the boys have to prove He is ready to become a man before he is accepted as one.
The ritual the Mawé boys who want to be thought of as men participate in involves capturing bullet ants and bringing them to their elders who temporarily render the ants unconscious by using a natural sedative and then sewing them into a large mittens so their stingers face inward. Once the mittens are completed and the ants are no longer sedated the boys have to put the gloves on for a full five minutes and be subjected to the ants stinging them dozens or even hundreds of times.
At this point I think it is important to mention that the bullet ant’s sting is so excruciatingly painful that it is compared to being shot with a bullet, and the pain can last upwards of 24 hours, coming and going in waves, and can cause uncontrollable shaking, nausea, muscular paralysis, disorientation and severe hallucinations.
Doing this once would be bad enough, but to be accepted as a men the boys must done the glove and endure the worst kind of pain for a total of 20 times over the course of several months. Any boy who refuses to perform the ritual, or any who doesn’t complete the ritual will be, for the rest of his life, looked at as a cowardly boy and never a man and will be an outcast among his people. For most boys the pain of being an outcast and a coward greatly outweighs the pain of the bullet ant sting so they willingly and eagerly participate in the dangerous ritual.
Another particularly dangerous coming of age ritual is that practiced by the young men of the Pentecost Island called “the leap of faith” to prove that they are ready to be men. The boys have vines tied around their legs and jumps off the platform high in the trees. Any young man who is jumping has to trust that the one who prepared the vine measured accurately and that he will not come to an untimely death. The idea is to stop with your head as close to the ground as you can without actually hitting it, and I don’t think I have to explain what may potentially go wrong. If the vine was too long, or if it was not tied properly, the young man would transition into the afterlife instead of transitioning to adulthood.
I completely acknowledge that the practice of intentionally allowing bullet ants to sting you is insane and any medical professional would strongly recommend against it, and I also completely acknowledge that jumping from a platform with a vine tied around your ankles is also insane, but there is something to be said for coming of age rituals, and I think so long as they are not dangerous they can do an immense amount of good.
Those practices I mentioned are, of course, extreme example of a coming of age ritual, but there are a lot of more common and sane coming of age rituals around the world, and some of them make a lot of sense, like that of the Inuit coming of age tradition where the young men have to go out into the wilderness with their fathers to prove they are capable of surviving in the harsh weather and are adequate hunters. The tradition makes sense because so much of the culture revolves around hunting and the livelihood of most of the people is dependent upon being successful hunters, and if a man can’t hunt he can’t provide for his family, and if he can’t survive in the wilderness than he can’t be a successful hunter.
In the Amish culture the coming of age tradition is called “Rumspringa” and it takes place when the Amish youth turn 16 and they are allowed unsupervised weekends away from their family and the Amish community to decide whether or not they actually want to be part of the Amish community or not. The Amish don’t want anyone to be part of the community who does not want to be and they feel that in order to be able to make an informed choice the youth must know what is on the outside so they know what they are trading for an Amish life if they choose to remain in their community. Once the youth have experienced the outside world and chosen to remain part of the Amish community they are baptized and are expected to remain faithful the rest of their life because it was their choice. Similarly, if a young person chooses to remain in the outside world and does not return to the community before they are 26 they are not welcomed back.
There are as many coming of age rituals or rite of passages as there are cultures, and the majority of them are mostly celebrations to mark the transition in to adulthood, and in most cultures, the child is given a lot of preparation and instruction before they reach the age of adulthood so that they can be a successful adult and a productive member of the community,
My family, however, is not like the rest of the world and did not have any rituals, celebrations, rite of passages or anything to signify coming of age, and in a way I feel like I was done a disservice by not having something to mark the occasion. The closest thing I ever had to a coming of age ritual was when my father forced me to drink a beer when I was twelve and then punished me for drinking it. I had a really charming father.
When I was growing up I not only didn’t have any solid male role model to look up to, which meant that I had no idea what it meant to be a man, my father also treated me like I would never be a man, regardless of how old I got. While most of what I will discuss can be universally applied to both men and women, I will be approaching it from the perspective of transitioning from boy to man as I obviously have no experience in transitioning form girl to woman and anything I gleaned from observing my sisters is second hand at best and completely misunderstood and misrepresented at worst. I will stick with what I understand, or at least what I have deluded myself into thinking I understand.
I have worked mostly full-time since I was fourteen years old, and even before that I did work for my parents, and I was paying most of the bills during my teenage years. Despite the fact that I had many adult responsibilities thrust upon me long before I was an adult, I did not feel like a man when I legally was one, and I was not rightly sure what it should feel like or what it even meant to be a man.
My father and all of the men he associated with were, at least in my mind, prime examples of how not to be a man so I turned to the only other place I knew to find a male role model and that was television and books. Of course when I was growing up television was a lot different than it is today and practically all shows were didactic in nature and taught some moral lesson where today’s shows either don’t teach a moral lesson or teach the wrong sort of morals altogether. Gone are the days of heroes as they have been replaced with antiheroes who would have been the villains in earlier shows. Even the Batman and Superman of today do not have the morals they espoused when I was growing up.
When I was growing up my heroes were the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris long before he became a meme and a series of jokes, John Wayne, and of course, Hulk Hulgan.
I would have given anything to have a male role model when I was growing up to teach me how to become a man, but television and books was the best I could hope for. Of course, even though it was not supposed to be primarily her responsibility, a lot of what I learned about being a good man and a responsible adult I learned from my mother. Some of what I learned about being a man from my mother and from the television shows and movies I watched is that a man never hits a woman, he stands up for what is right regardless of the cost, he helps those in need, he protects the week, he is always polite and respectful to women, children and the elderly, he obeys the law and he works for everything he has and does not expect anyone else to take care of him.
When I became an adult in the eyes of the law, people generally expected me to act like an adult, and I did my best to play the part, but I didn’t feel much like an adult and I had no idea how to accurately determine when I had made it. At this point in my life, crowding 40, I have been an adult much longer than I was a child, but at times I am still not quite sure that I am adult enough, whatever that means.
Try as I might, I am unable to determine when I actually started feeling like an adult or viewing myself as an adult, I just realized one day that I was and that I had been so for a long time. For some people getting their driver’s license is the thing that makes them feel like an adult, but it didn’t make me feel like an adult, though it did offer a significant amount of freedom that I had not previously had. When I purchased my first car, a 1983 Subaru GL Wagon that third and fifth gears didn’t work, I was also given a lot of extra responsibility as I had to drive my sisters to their jobs or wherever else they needed to go.
Growing up is difficult and It was bad enough with all of the absent fathers of my generation, but now it is almost considered a crime by popular culture to teach a boy how to be a man and anything that was typically thought made a man a man is now considered to be toxic and boys are raised to think that it is wrong to be a man. In today’s culture the term man has also been changed and now means whatever the person using it wants it to mean, and the youth of today are being taught that they can do whatever they want, so long as the end justifies the means. No wonder there are so many boys in men’s bodies wondering around lost and desperately searching for meaning, no wonder women lament that they can’t find a good man. .
I firmly believe that it is a parent’s job to train their children to be proper adults, which will equally benefit the children and society at large. I also believe that if a person is not given proper structure and teachings when they are growing up and are not given an appropriate rite of passage they will seek to find one on their own, and what they find is not typically good or wholesome. Some of the rite of passage rituals that young people do in lieu of propers ones provided by responsible adults are underage drinking, promiscuity, drugs, shoplifting and many other dangerous and sinful activities.
Children need guidance. The reason insurance is so much more expensive for young drivers is not because they lack the skills to be a good driver, though many of them do, it is because they make poor choices. I made poor choices when I was young, and without knowing anything about you I can say with complete certainty that you made foolish and stupid choices when you were young, and if you are young now that you making or will make poor choices. The adult role models should help those young people they mentor to make wise choices and despite the fact that we often think we know everything when we are young, regardless of how intelligent a person is, some things can only be learned through age and experience, two things young people lack. It is always wise to listen to the advice of a person who has already been through what you are about to go through so you can avoid some of the mistakes that they made.
Hopefully all of you who are young have good Christian parents who are good role models and mentors to you, but if you are not fortunate in that area I would strongly urge you to find a godly person in your church to help guide you through the hurdles of life.
The Bible is full of examples of people who righteously mentored another person and helped them to navigate the uncertainties of life and helped them to prepare for the the tasks and responsibilities they would inevitable be faced with in the future. I won’t talk about most of the mentor relationships in the Bible, but I will spend a little time talking abut Jethro, the mentor who taught Moses, and Joshua, the man who was mentored by Moses.
Moses was mentored by his father in law-Jethro, and even after he was the prophet and leading the nation of Israel, he still needed the wise council of his father in-law who had many more years of experience than he himself did. In turn, Moses mentored Joshua and made sure he was prepared for the arduous task of leading the people of Israel.
Moses knew that he would never cross the Jordan and that he would not be the one to lead the people in battle against the other nations they would encounter, but he knew Joshua would. Moses felt no animosity toward Joshua for taking his place and he prepared him well for the task, and Joshua never thought he knew better than Moses and refused to take his council.
Had Joshua not been trained and guided by Moses he would not have been able to lead the people, much less March victoriously through a hostile enemy to their promised land. I guarantee you that when the time came for Joshua to take over leading the people he was was scared, but he also had the confidence and the knowledge necessary to handle the task because he was taught by Moses.
Earlier I mentioned that the younger people needs to have an older person as a mentor, but I also think it is important for the older generation to reach out and help those of the younger generation, even those whom they are not related to. It has been a great blessing in my life to be friends with older Christians, and I try to be a good example and a good mentor to those who are younger than I am.