I've studied a bit about the rites of passage many cultures require of their young men. It's a vitally important part of growing up as it signifies the end of one state of being - childhood - and the start of adulthood with its increased rights, responsibilities, risks and rewards.
The Maasai tribe ancient rite is particularly startling. They have an ancient culture, live in the wild, and grow warriors. Their rite of passage? Stalking and killing a lion. By themselves. Armed with arrows and spears.
Two quick observations on this: First, would you want your 15 year-old son walking out into the bush to find a lion with nothing more than pointed, wooden weapons? No, thank you very much.
Secondly, that's a pretty awful end to a beautiful creature.
This is an old culture, an old rite. And old things are hard to change. However, along with human encroachment, it was decimating the lion population. In a not too distant future, there wouldn't be enough lions for the rite of passage.
The Tanzanian government tried to end the rite to no avail. Conservationists, on the other hand, tried a different approach.
They enlisted help from the Maasai warriors to protect the lions and heal those which were wounded.
Rather than tracking and killing a lion, the new symbol of courage for the warriors is saving lions. Now, rather than being on the decline, lions in Tanzania are on the road to recovery thanks, in many parts, to their ancient enemy, the Maasai.
What if our young men did something similar? Rather than going out to 'kill it' in business, school, with the girls or sports, they made it their mission to 'serve it.' Specifically, what if they spent time with a young guy with a tough home life, without much hope? What about helping a widow who needs a hand?
It doesn't take bringing gifts or spending money. It takes time and effort and consistency and presence. Throwing a ball, taking a walk, sitting down to do homework together. Doing yard work, cleaning gutters, running an errand or two.
And don't tell me about how the testosterone surges won't allow them to connect. I've seen too many uber-competitive boys giggle and high-five and wrestle with a 6 year-old. I've also seen the shy smile of an introverted kid after he helped a widow by spreading pine straw and cleaning out gutters. It can be done.
Involving ourselves in the life of another, providing care and showing interest may be the best antidote to that which ails many of our young men - loneliness and lack of purpose.
The Bible calls for God's followers to care for the least and the lost, the widows and orphans. Jesus often spent time with the children, not bringing the material gifts but rather spending time with them, offering hope. That was enough to save many.
Some of God's children over in Africa, living in grass huts and hunting for their food, are showing us a good way to raise our boys. Will we listen?
*Thanks to Seth Godin for the story. Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash