Men Need Men


We meet every Wednesday morning. We are of different ages, different backgrounds and different socioeconomic classes. Some of us are devout, others are still unsure about their faith. We are a diverse group, not all of us are married and our ages range from 28 to 64. We do not have much in common yet we come together each week with a shared agenda. We want to be better men.

We want to be better because we know we can be and we know we should be. We recognize that we are all messed up, all have problems, all have hang ups and issues. Most importantly we understand that we cannot become the men we need to be on our own. We have blind spots, prejudices and preconceptions, broken thinking that gets in the way, and keeps us from being the men we want to be. We need other men to help us.

We rise early once a week, drink coffee and discuss the struggles common to all men. We spent a month discussing anger, why we get mad, when we get mad and how we can learn to control our tempers. We have talked about women, but not in the way men often do. We talk about how we can be the type of men who respect women in our personal and professional lives. We talk about morality, honesty and integrity, and all of the barriers that make it hard to be good.

We laugh together, tease each other, challenge each other and encourage each other, week after week. As we do, a remarkable thing is happening. We are changing. Tempers are coming under control, goals are being adjusted, and definitions of manhood are changing. Friendships have developed and are growing. 

Also growing is the realization of how much men need other men. Many of us did not have strong fathers, most of us have not had many deep male friendships. All of us are seeing that we need each other and that we are better because we meet.

It is one of the most significant things I have ever done. I have been a doctor for 28 years and been actively involved in church ministry for nearly as long. I cannot think of a single thing I have done that has been as consistently powerful and meaningful. Men need men, and it is a privilege to bring men together.


If you are a man interested in meeting with other men, send me a message. If you know a man who might be interested, send them a message. We weren't meant to fight these battles alone.

Bad Dads, Good Dad?


I have always wanted to be a good dad, the type of father my kids could admire and praise. Unfortunately for me my desire was not combined with knowledge, for I did not have a father growing up. There were two men who shared the title of “dad” in my life, but neither of them was committed to the role. My step-father was an abusive alcoholic who believed that children were supposed to quietly serve their parents. He took no delight in me and showered me with curses instead of praises. He was a man to be avoided, not admired. My own father, a bitter, angry man, only saw us at holidays and for a few weeks in the summer. The rare moments spent with him were opportunities for him to criticize and correct us. I was told that I used too small a spoon to eat my cereal, did not know the correct way to take off a shirt or put on socks, and was clumsy. I was never told that I was loved.

By the time I reached high school it was clear to me that I would have to figure out fatherhood on my own. I looked for role models, typically to male leaders in the churches I attended, but those men were always too busy to invest time in me. My training was limited to an occasional Bible lesson or sermon.

Those sermons, as limited as they were in number, were not without impact. They gave me the principles upon which I could try to build the character traits I desired, an idea of the type of person I wanted to be. I learned the values that characterized a good man and father.

I learned from the book of Ephesians that husbands were to love their wives. From this I realized that the most important thing I could do for my children was to love their mother. I could not be a great father without being a great husband. A man’s highest calling is to be a husband, and I needed to model this for my kids. In sickness and in health, for rich or for poor, come hell or high water, in the way I loved and served my wife I could teach my kids what it meant to be a man.

I learned from Deuteronomy 6 that it was my job to teach my children about God.  Moses’ words to the nation of Israel were a solemn charge to intentionally teach children about the nature of God, His words, and how to follow Him. With this in mind, from the age of 16 I worked to study the Bible and apply it to my life, to live consistent with the teachings of Scripture so I could be a role model for my children. When our children came along I worked to share God’s words with them. In conversations at the dinner table, in the car and at every opportunity I worked to teach my kids how Biblical truth applied to every area of life.

I learned from 1 John that in spite of my best efforts I would sometimes fail to be the man I was called to be. While sin was inevitable, through my faults I taught my children how to fail. From my father I inherited a bad temper and controlling it was a constant struggle. On those occasions when my anger got the best of me I showed my kids how to apologize, without excuse or justification. I am at times fearful and anxious, and my children heard me ask God for wisdom and help. I taught them what it meant for a broken person to love a perfect God.

I could have done better. Not a day goes by that I do not wish that I had been a better man, that I had listened more, been more patient, more attentive, or more kind. It is easy to look back over 28 years of fathering and think of all of the ways I could have done better.

It would be easy to let regret at my failures overwhelm me, to tell myself that I was a bad dad, but when I look at my children it is hard to accept such a conclusion. My son is singularly committed to the only girl he has ever loved and devoted to my grandson. While other men his age are out seeking pleasure and parties, my son wants only to be with his family. My son wants to be a great husband and father, and he is working hard towards that goal.

My daughter, who is engaged to be married this October, wants me to officiate her ceremony, because she believes that her dad is the best man for the job. She tells me she wants us to dance to “My Girl” and “That’s What Makes You Beautiful” because those are songs I sang to her and with her when she was a little girl. She is proud to be my daughter.

Father’s Day has always been a strange day for me. It brings with it sadness as I reflect on the men who raised me and the pain they caused, pain that lingers to this day, pain I will never fully escape. It also brings me joy, for I have children that love me, children that can see past my faults to the man I want to be and am striving to become.



Miss America isn't the Problem, America is


This last week the press was abuzz with the news that the Miss America pageant was no longer going to be a beauty contest. The pageant announced it was doing away with both the swimsuit and evening gown portions of the competition.  Gretchen Carlson, the Chairman of the Board of Directors made it clear that women who wished to compete for the title of Miss America would no longer be scored on their appearance. “We’re not going to judge you on your appearance because we are interested in what makes you you," Carlson said.

The move was hailed as part of the positive cultural change brought about by the #metoo movement, the widespread uprising against the harassment and abuse of women. Ms. Carlson referenced this when she said, “Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.” Commentators called the changes long overdue, with the Dallas News going so far as to say, “As long as Miss America requires contestants to look good in an evening gown while strutting in high-heeled dress shoes, it’s unlikely women in the United States will achieve gender equity.”

The reports were characterized by a sense of celebration, recognition of a positive societal evolution. There was a sense that the days of women being objectified were numbered, that women were now going to define for themselves feminine ideals. Miss America was showing the way, first by getting rid of misogynistic leaders and filling the organization's board with female leaders, and now by making sure that contestants would not be subjected to body shaming or leering audiences.

The changes in Miss America dominated the news this week were significant, but were not the most important story impacting the rights of women in America. The biggest news came from a minimally reported public opinion poll. The Gallup organization this week announced survey results that should give pause to all who think our nation is making progress in its attitudes about women.

Gallup asked respondents a simple question, “Is pornography morally acceptable?” The findings were devastating. 67% of men between the ages of 18-49 and 43% of all respondents said, “Yes.” This was not “yes” to bikinis or “yes” to nudity of the type seen in Game of Thrones. This was not “Yes” to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition or airbrushed poses for Playboy. This is “yes” to explicit sex acts, the most degrading material possible.

It is important to note that the question was not about legality, Gallup did not ask about what should be allowable or tolerated in a free society. They specifically used the word "moral." Morality refers to the rightness of a thing, or to put it another way, to the absence of wrongness in a thing. We have reached the point where two-thirds of young to middle-aged men believe there is nothing at all wrong with them gaining pleasure by watching women perform sexual acts with other men.

What does it say about a nation that celebrates banning modest swimwear on television while at  the same time finds it acceptable to broadcast graphic sexual acts over the internet for everyone to see?

It says that America has no sense of morality at all. 


Can a Christian be Anxious?


Words are dangerous things. As with a knife in the hands of a surgeon or the grasp of an assassin, whether they heal or harm depends on the manner in which they are wielded. The words of Scripture are no different in this regard. Divinely inspired and intended to further the purposes of the Loving God, when used incorrectly they can wound the soul.

In my experience, some of the most dangerous words in the Bible can be found in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi-

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Written to encourage believers to focus their hope on God and his eternal purposes, they are at times transformed into a cudgel of discouragement, ignorantly wielded in a manner that bruises the hearts and minds of emotionally struggling Christians. “Do not be anxious,” wrongly elevated to the status of commandment, becomes a measure of faithfulness such that the presence of anxiety is interpreted as a sign of mistrust in God, spiritual immaturity and sin.

For Christians stricken with anxiety disorder, these words can be devastating. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy, already the daily companions of anxiety sufferers, grow in power and intensity at the implication that one’s feelings of anxiousness are a sinful choice.

I have been on both the giving and receiving end of these misspoken words. In the formative years of my Christian faith I attended a church with a Pentecostal bent, a place where faith was more emotional than intellectual, a place where hurting people were “encouraged” to simply “let go and let God.” Prayers for the struggling often included asking God to help them “trust God more” or to be “set free” from sin. I joined in these prayers, ignorant of the impact of my words.

My perspective changed a little over 10 years ago. I was preparing to enter an exam room one day when I felt a sense of dread come over me. Uneasiness and fear took hold. For no reason at all I felt as if something bad was about to happen. These feelings were soon joined by pressure in my chest, lightheadedness and a sense of detachment. My mind began to race and I felt as if my emotions were about to spin out of control.

“What is happening to me?” I thought. I answered my own question as quickly as I had asked it. “I am having a panic attack!”

The intellectual awareness of what was happening gave me the strength to stall the downward spiral. I was able to calm myself partially, enough to allow myself to call my wife and ask her to bring some medication from home. I had the presence of mind to tell my staff what was going on, and to ask them to reschedule some of my patients. It took a while, but with great effort and the calming presence of my wife I was able to finish my work day.

In the weeks that followed additional attacks came. I found myself in fear of the next attack and what it would do to me. I developed other fears as well, including intense self-doubt in personal and professional interactions. With the fears came increased irritability as I struggled to regain a sense of control over my life and thoughts. I saw a doctor, and with the help of counseling and medications learned to deal with a new reality.

I have not been the same since. While debilitating moments of panic have been rare, fear and anxious feelings now greet me every morning. Their voices are quieter some days than others, at times easily drowned out by the clamor of the day, but they are always present. Countless hours in prayer and Bible study have made one thing certain. Telling myself, or being told by others, “Don’t be anxious”, does not help.

It does not help, because the words of Paul (and Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount), were not meant to be used in this fashion. New Testament teaching about anxiety is never directed at the generalized sense of unease associated with a serotonin imbalance, it is directed at the human tendency to obsess and focus on earthly needs in a way that is contrary to a life of faith.

When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he was in prison, awaiting a possible death sentence. The church was being persecuted and many believers were suffering for their faith. It would have been easy for them to out of fear turn away from God. To these people, in these circumstances, Paul said, “Do not be anxious… but make your requests known to God.” Similarly, in the sermon on the mount Jesus reminded people not to focus on material needs, but to instead trust in God’s eternal purposes.

Paul was not saying that all anxiety was sin, or that Christians should never be anxious. He was acknowledging the danger that in focusing on the sufferings of this present life Christians can become discouraged. He therefore reminded them of the alternative, to focus on God and his promises.

I do not believe feelings of anxiety are a measure of anyone’s faith. Faith is displayed not in the absence of doubt or fear, but in the choice to trust God and his purposes in their presence. I do not say to myself, “Stop being anxious and trust God.” I instead say, “Yes, you are anxious, trust God anyway.”

These words do not take my anxious feelings away, but they do put the feelings in context. I am reminded that I will not be anxious forever. Eternity awaits, free from both emotional and physical pain. In that hope I find hope, peace, confidence and strength. I also find, strangely, a sustaining sense of joy.


While the focus of this post has been on Christian perceptions of anxiety it is worth noting that bad counsel is not limited to people of faith. Patients often tell me about family and friends not understanding their struggles, of being told that there is no reason for them to be anxious. I typically smile as I point out that this is why it is called an anxiety disorder. Normal people worry for a reason, people with anxiety disorder are often anxious for no reason at all. 

All patients with anxiety, regardless of faith, should be encouraged to get help. Counseling, in particular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is extremely beneficial. Medications, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, can also be tremendously helpful tools.


Failure is not an Option, it is a Certainty

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.


The CT scan of his lungs was supposed to be normal. Joe did not have any symptoms of cancer, no shortness of breath or unexplained weight loss. He was completely healthy. Nevertheless, new guidelines for lung cancer screening had just been announced and although he felt fine he fell within the screening parameters. I followed those guidelines and ordered a lung scan.

The results were a surprise. He had a mass in his lungs that was unquestionably cancerous in appearance. The news was bad but there was cause for hope. The scan seemed to have done its job and caught the cancer in time. The tumor appeared to be of an operable size and there was no evidence of spread. I was confident that Joe would be okay.

The surgeon shared my optimism and scheduled a resection of the tumor for the following week. The patient was upbeat, grateful that his cancer had been discovered early. He was nearing retirement and was looking forward to many more years with his family confident that our early diagnosis was going to give him those years. He felt so healthy that the day before the procedure he spent time with his grandson shooting baskets in his driveway.

We were all proven wrong. The surgery did not go well. The tumor was much larger than expected and was wrapped around one of the bronchi. Simple removal was impossible. The planned wedge resection gave way to a resection of the entire upper lobe of his lung. It was going to be a difficult recovery.

It was worse than difficult. Each day seemed to bring a new complication. We learned that his years of smoking had taken a much greater than expected toll on his lungs. He had more COPD than his tests had suggested, and the lungs he had left struggled to meet the oxygen demands of his body. The stress of the surgery led to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a life-threatening condition that causes lungs to get stiff and hard to inflate, as well as fluid to seep into the areas where oxygen is exchanged. We could not get him off of the breathing machine. Less than a week after shooting baskets with his grandson, he was dying.

Multiple specialists were called, all of them excellent, all of whom did everything they could to halt the downward spiral. They all failed. After about a week it was clear that he would not survive. Filled with sadness I came to the hospital to deliver the news to his shell-shocked wife. Together we made the decision to remove life support and let him go. We had done our best, but we had lost.

It is a sad reality of life that doing our best does not guarantee success. Excellence does not always result in good outcomes. This is not always easy to accept. We live in a results-based society that celebrates the motto from Apollo 13- “Failure is not an option.”

The truth is that failure happens, even to the best of us. Good doctors lose patients, good drivers get in car accidents, and good parents have kids that go astray. Those of us who understand this can resist the temptation to judge others based on things they cannot control, and take comfort in knowing that God judges us not on external results, but on the heart that only he can see.

- Bart