- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

What do men really want? They desire battles to fight, adventures to live and beautiful women to rescue, says the founder of a new Christian men's ministry. Instead, they feel emasculated.
They watch movies like "Gladiator," "Braveheart" and "Saving Private Ryan" because the essence of men's hearts is wild and fierce, says John Eldredge, founder of Ransomed Heart Ministries, which seeks to "give back men their hearts."
His ministry, based in Colorado Springs, seems to have touched a nerve: His three books have sold 1.1 million copies, his retreats have waiting lists and, he jokes, he no longer can enter a Starbucks in his hometown without getting autograph requests.
"The reason men are bored to tears is they have no adventure in their lives," he says. "They are sitting in cubicles and shopping in malls. I was intrigued to see the other day how the Wall Street Journal markets itself as 'adventures in capitalism.' They know something."
A tough-guy movie like "Gladiator," he says, "speaks to the longings in men's hearts. But the church has missed this badly. It's told men the reason for their existence is to be nice guys. So if these deep desires are not affirmed and validated in a man's life, they go underground and surface in darker ways."
The goal of the books and retreats, Mr. Eldredge, 42, said in an interview last week, is to provide initiation into manhood. Men who have never made the transition secretly wonder if they have what it takes, he says, and either become violent always trying to prove their manhood or passive not daring to try.
"I've found most men have lost heart; they are drifting through life, angry and bored," he says, "and they're addicted to behaviors that in better moments they wouldn't want."
Doubting their manhood, he adds, they date women who make them feel safe, instead of women who inspire but challenge them.
Inner-city gangs, he says, understand the value of elaborate rituals to prove manhood, as do men of Africa's Masai tribe, who traditionally are required to kill a lion before they court a woman. So does al Qaeda, whose terrorist ideology plays on the innate desire of men to undergo the most severe testing even death to prove their masculine fitness.
Mr. Eldredge's four yearly "adventure retreats" for men in the Colorado wilderness have a waiting list of 1,000. A rally set for Feb. 21-22 at McLean Bible Church near Tyson's Corner already has 300 men signed up.
Marty Granger, director of Washington Area Coalition of Men's Ministries, says the demand will far exceed the available 2,500 spaces.
"We are sensing a pent-up demand," he says. "I know a lot of men who are bored and tired of the daily routine of their lives. This steers men in the right direction to find their hearts."
Mr. Eldredge was a bored and restless research analyst for the Family Research Council when he left the District in 1990. After obtaining a master's degree in counseling from Colorado Christian University in Denver, he went to work for Focus on the Family Institute in Colorado Springs.
In 1997, he and Brent Curtis, a like-minded Christian counselor, published "The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God," which sold 500,000 copies. The two men were close friends until May 1998, when Mr. Curtis, 50, fell 80 feet to his death during a rock-climbing expedition. Mr. Eldredge was left to go it alone.
His next book, published in 2000, titled "The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We've Only Dreamed Of," continued the same theme of following one's heart.
"Most people just give up too quickly," says Mr. Eldredge. "They take a quick look at their life and bank account and say it's not possible. But that's where faith comes in. If we believe in a God who loves us, it will become possible."
The "Desire" book has sold 200,000 copies. His most recent book, "Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul," published last year, has sold 400,000 copies and is used as a Bible study guide in men's groups around the country.
"I have given away 15 cases of the book," says John Bishop, 56, a real estate marketer in Arlington and a Presbyterian. "It's capturing men's hearts. There's been such a strong feeling on the part of men feeling isolated and ostracized from the overall culture. The book helps them re-engage themselves as men because men are built to accept challenges."
It is similar, he added, to Promise Keepers, another Colorado-based ministry promoting close ties among Christian men.
"It promotes a strong but caring masculinity, which I don't think the culture at this point really cares about," he says. "We live in a culture that has been de-masculinized."
Bob Blizzard, 48, a Baltimore businessman, said the "Wild at Heart" retreat last fall prompted him to sell his technical staffing company and "pursue my heart."
"I wanted my freedom back," he says. "You wake up one day and ask, 'Why am I a businessman when I hate business?' What my real dream is, is to help men find their hearts. Thoreau said most men live lives of quiet desperation. So one day I woke up and said there has to be more to life than this."
Mr. Blizzard formed Band of Brothers when he took 22 men to the Catoctin Mountains in Western Maryland in February to discuss "Wild at Heart" and brainstorm. One man has since become a missionary to Indonesia, another is selling his company and yet another has quit his job outright.
"It's exactly what God wanted," he says, "passion from men. I have guys who even say their sex lives are better because their passion is back. But the institutional church is about control, and we can't exactly use church facilities for what we do. Some of the movies we show, like 'Devil's Advocate,' are R-rated."
Mr. Eldredge the married father of three sons and a member of an evangelical congregation says too many churches are "stripping men of their strength" by misusing Scripture and not helping men to trust their desires.
"Sanctified resignation," he says, "is what you find in most pews."
It amuses him, he says, that several evangelical seminaries and colleges including the football team at Wheaton College in Illinois use "Sacred Romance" as a textbook or devotional guide.
"People are starving," he muses. "Instead of freedom and life, churches offer duty and obligation."


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