From Boys To Men

Psalm 23 – the 4th Sunday of Easter – for April 29, 2012

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” (Psalm 23:1)

Four decades ago this coming Memorial Day, my friend Michael dragged me away from college classes for a weekend sojourn into the mountains.

My first backpack.

While we often embellish or compress a first event in the re-telling, they are like a tree’s taproot: deep, essential and nourishing. I wore steel-toed work boots with slick soles (great for not gripping the trail), couldn’t make a fire after going through a mess of matches (Michael got a blaze underway with a single strike) and generally had a rousing time. I’d never hiked, never slept in the woods, never witnessed the Milky Way sprawl across a midnight sky, never had blisters between my tootsies nor splashed water onto my face from a snow-fed stream.

We were men. We were children. We were adventurers. We were college kids.

Early in the evening, we (okay, Michael) built a campfire. As the sun faded, and the surrounding trees seemed to tuck the day’s light behind wide branches, we positioned sticks as long as our arms into the fire. Their tips glowed. Spontaneously, we raised the sticks, probably fallen branches, and began a sword fight. Swoosh. Whoosh. Feint and thrust. Laughter and banter. Two man/boys, pretend Knights of the Round Table, battling at the edge of the forest. As the imagined weapons cut through the darkness, the tips—aglow from the fire—etched spectacular orange-tinged slices and circles against the dark background. Simple and dazzling. Instant fireworks. Special effects in a movie only made in our minds and memories.

A slender piece of wood became an imaginary weapon.

Jesus wore a "hoodie" and had a staff*...

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.”

I read this verse from Psalm 23, arguably the Bible’s most familiar passage. Can I discern anything new? Do these ancient words still possess the ability to keep my eyes open to the world around me?

Not likely . . . until I considered the rod and staff. Even more, when I considered that the word “comfort” was linked to these two slender pieces of wood. Why did the psalmist add comfort as a description?

A man/child in the woods, I repeated actions I’d done since first wandering away from my parents. As a little tyke exploring the backyard, I’d grasp a stick and transform it into a weapon. How easy to turn a gnarled branch into a sword, jousting pole, Winchester 73 (“the gun that won the west”) or an RPG launcher. Though I’ve seen girls do it, the stick-to-weapon transformation seems more a part of the male DNA. Is it genetic? Is it primal? Is it cultural? Is gender really a factor? Continue reading →