Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhoodby Nate Larkin
With no-holds-barred honesty and poignant storytelling, Nate Larkin introduces a model of community and friendship that is reinvigorating men's ministry across the country, a model he calls The Samson Society. Too many men see the biblical hero Samson as their model for manhooda rugged individualist of the highest order. Yet, Samson's solitary successes were
With no-holds-barred honesty and poignant storytelling, Nate Larkin introduces a model of community and friendship that is reinvigorating men's ministry across the country, a model he calls The Samson Society. Too many men see the biblical hero Samson as their model for manhooda rugged individualist of the highest order. Yet, Samson's solitary successes were eventually overcome by moral weaknesses. Larkin, through the story of his own past and the stories of those in The Samson Society, offers a radical, refreshing alternative.
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Samson and the Pirate MonksCalling Men to Authentic Brotherhood
By Nate Larkin
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Nate Larkin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRight Field, Upper Deck
I love baseball.
I don't play the game very well, you understand. When I tried out for the Harmonsburg Little League team, the coach looked me over and sent me into right field. "Where's right field?" I asked. He pointed. I ran toward the far fence, proudly carrying the new baseball glove my father had given me the week before.
When I turned around, the coach was standing at home plate with a bat, knocking ground balls at the infielders. Suddenly he called, "Right field!" I heard a sharp crack! and saw the ball shoot into the sky. It climbed like a rocket, higher and higher, almost intercepting a passing bird, then finally-majestically-slowed, stalled, and began plummeting in my direction.
I watched, fascinated, as the ball bore toward me. I should catch this, I thought. I should raise my glove. But for some reason my arms would not work. If I don't catch this ball, it might hit me. I tried again to raise my glove, but it was no use; I was completely paralyzed. Yes, the ball is going to hit me. It is definitely going to hit me. This is probably going to hur-The ball struck me full in the face.
After my nose stopped bleeding and I had found my glasses, the coach suggested that I might want to spendsome time playing catch before trying out again for the team. I never played competitive baseball on a real team, but during my teenage years I followed the New York Yankees from opening day to their final out. I couldn't watch them on television, because my family didn't own a television. But I could listen to the games on my transistor radio, and I could read the box scores and check the standings in the Watertown Times every afternoon. During night games on the West Coast when the first pitch wasn't thrown until after our bedtime, I tucked the radio under my pillow and whispered developments to my brothers until they fell asleep.
The Football Seats
In the spring of 1993, when the brand-new Florida Marlins took the field at Joe Robbie Stadium for their very first major league baseball game, I was in the stands with my youngest son, Daniel. He was twelve years old at the time, morphing before my eyes, and I was hoping that baseball might give us a common language, a way to communicate during his teenage years. It did. Daniel soon loved the game as much as I did, and we followed the team together while Daniel and the Marlins suffered through adolescence.
By their fifth season, when the Marlins had become genuine World Series contenders and Daniel had become a young man, we owned a pair of season tickets at the ballpark. Actually, "ballpark" is a charitable term. Joe Robbie Stadium was built for football, not baseball. Our seats, a few rows above the rail on the upper deck, held a commanding view of the 50-yard line. They were great football seats. We told ourselves that they were good-enough baseball seats, since they gave us an overview of the entire playing field from high above the action.
We loved it when the Marlins were in town. After leaving our car in a five-dollar parking spot somewhere beside the Florida Turnpike, we'd hike to the stadium, ride a tall escalator to the third level, and stand in line for hot dogs and cokes. Then with both hands full and our tickets in our teeth, we'd make the tightrope walk to our seats. After we'd settled in, I'd prop a transistor radio on the armrest between us.
For the next three hours or so, we'd watch the game unfold on the field far below while listening to the play-by-play on the radio. We didn't bother bringing our baseball mitts because no foul balls ever reached our section. We would talk about the players and speculate about strategy. Sometimes when there was a dispute on the infield, other fans sitting around us who didn't have radios would ask us what was going on. When the game was very slow, our section often would invent diversions to pass the time. We were watching baseball from the football seats, and we were happy.
The Baseball Seats
One morning I received a phone call at work, a call that changed my life forever as a baseball fan. It was an invitation to a birthday party for an acquaintance, a wonderful old man named Harry. Harry's son was the majority owner of the Marlins, and he was planning a small celebration for his dad in his luxury box during an upcoming ballgame. I accepted immediately. A couple of days later, a ticket and a VIP parking pass appeared on my desk.
This time when I arrived at the ballpark, the parking lot attendant spotted the purple VIP pass dangling from the rearview mirror of my decrepit Mazda. He directed me toward a special gate, where a guard smiled and waved me through. I drove right up to the stadium, parking a few feet away from a canopy-covered walkway that led to an elegant entrance. As I approached the entrance, the doors opened and a blonde usher welcomed me inside. She glanced at my ticket and then guided me through a lush lobby-past paintings and trophy cases-to a brass elevator. A moment later we stepped out into a carpeted corridor populated by white-jacketed waiters pushing linen-covered carts. I could hear the soft clink of glassware. The usher led me to an oak door and opened it, revealing a sight that took my breath away.
There, right there, just beyond some sofas and theater seats, lay the infield. It was beautiful beyond words. The red-clay diamond, cut neatly into the manicured grass and buttoned in place with immaculate bases, appeared almost close enough to touch. Enthralled, I took a seat at the front of the box and watched as the groundskeepers misted the base paths and chalked the foul lines. Below me, the expensive seats behind the backstop slowly filled up, and the players took the field for warm-ups. Meanwhile other guests filtered into the box behind me.
When the guest of honor arrived, we all applauded and sang "Happy Birthday." Then the owner directed us to a steaming buffet featuring hot dogs-not the foil-wrapped dogs with the soggy buns that I had been buying on the upper concourse, but steamed deli dogs with fresh rolls and all the fixings. They were fabulous and they were free. I ate three. The drinks were also free. I drank three. I was considering a fourth when the owner of the team sat down beside me.
"Are you enjoying yourself?" he asked.
I bubbled like a ten-year-old. "I've never been this close to a game before," I said. "This is fantastic!"
The owner grinned. "You like to be close? Follow me."
He led me back through the luxury box, out the oak door, down the corridor, and into the brass elevator. When it stopped we were in a dim cavern somewhere beneath the stands. I followed him through a maze of concrete columns and into a tunnel, and when we came out of the tunnel ... we were on the field! We were actually in front of the stands in a little cove protected by Plexiglas. It contained a television camera and a half-dozen folding chairs. The umpire, the catcher, and the batter were just a few feet away. The pitcher hurled a fastball and I ducked. The owner laughed. "Looks a little different down here, doesn't it?" he asked. I nodded, unable to speak, and ducked again as a foul tip banged off the Plexiglas screen. He motioned toward a pair of seats and we sat down.
I wanted to stay in those seats forever. I was watching baseball from the baseball seats for the first time in my life, and this was a different game. This was not the leisurely ballet of pitch and catch that I had watched from high above the 50-yard line while listening to the radio. This game was lightning-fast, brutal, and unspeakably sublime. A hundred things were happening around me all at once, and even though I didn't understand them all, I could feel them. Behind the rhythmic slap of horsehide on leather I could feel the flashing of signs, the coiling of muscles, the subtle adjustments in angle and stance that rippled toward the outfield. I could hear the chatter of the dugouts and the faraway murmur of the crowd. I could sense the concentration of men who had devoted their lives to this very moment. And then in a quick series of explosions, the crescendo of a play and the echoing call of the ump. This, this was baseball.
Men of Integrity
When I think about my life as a Christian, it seems to me that I spent my first forty years in the upper deck, watching the gospel from the football seats. I liked those seats just fine. I was in the stadium. I knew God, loved God, and wore his jersey. I didn't really know the other fans in my section, but I enjoyed their company. When we talked, we talked about God and the game. The gospel was far away, but we could still see it, analyze it, and argue about it. We relied heavily on broadcasts from experts who were closer to the field, and when things got slow we entertained ourselves with diversions of our own invention.
I always enjoyed hearing the gospel, even during those years when I was sitting in the upper deck. Its songs and stories captured my imagination, and its pageantry could move me to tears. I loyally followed my favorite preachers, parroting their phrases and mimicking their signature moves. There were those times, of course, when I yearned to move closer to the field, but I didn't seem to have the right ticket.
As I understood it, only men of integrity could play the real game. I thought that preachers and church leaders were Christians for whom personal sin had become a thing of the past, leaving only semisins such as speeding or grouchiness to serve as sermon illustrations. I believed that big league Christians devoted their days to prayer and Bible study. They no longer experienced fleshly desires because their flesh had been transfigured long ago. And on those rare occasions when they were subjected to temptation, they always made the right decision. Occasionally a church leader might be caught in an outright sin, but that was a rare exception, and the offender was immediately fired or traded to protect the integrity of the team.
My dream was to play in the big leagues someday, but I wasn't sure how to get there. Nobody seemed to want to play catch, and I couldn't get the hang of the game just by watching it, listening to talks about it, reading about it, and practicing on my own.
My hopes for integrity were dealt a terrible blow by puberty. The natural awakening of my sexual impulses was not a subject I could discuss openly with anyone, and its manifestations left me deeply ashamed. My involuntary and progressively obsessive interest in the female form-the rampaging thoughts and physical responses produced by the flood of new hormones-caused me indescribable distress. Sunday after Sunday I resolved to conquer lust, but the climate of shame and secrecy in my religious environment forced me to battle the beast alone. On those terms the battle was unwinnable.
I occasionally attempted to communicate with others about what was really going on, but I always did so carefully, not wanting to ruin my chances of making the team. When it came to issues of sexuality, I spoke in code, veiling my questions with vague references to "temptation" or pretending to be bothered by anger.
Meanwhile, my religious persona was gaining quite a reputation for piety. Saint Nate was the kind of kid religious mothers held up as an example to their children and a reproof to their husbands. I moved naturally into leadership positions in Christian youth organizations, where the heightened visibility made it all the more necessary for me to hide my sin until I could find a cure for it.
"It is better to marry than to burn" (1 Cor. 7:9), the college chaplain quoted with a wink. It was a verse I knew well, a verse I construed to mean that marriage would solve my lust problem. I found a fabulous woman, and on the day I graduated from college I married her, but the problem didn't disappear. If anything, it metastasized. When that happened, I panicked and blamed my wife.
It was at about this time that I was struck by a novel thought. I had been regarding integrity as a precondition for entering the ministry, but what if I were looking at it all wrong? What if integrity is really a product of the ministry? Surely I would learn the deeper secrets of the Christian life in seminary. Surely I would stop fooling around with lust when it became my job to serve God, when I was being paid to pray and preach and study the Bible. The more I thought about it, the more certain I became. I would find integrity in the spotlight!
What I Learned in Seminary
Seminary, however, proved to be the nadir of my spiritual experience. For three years, Allie and I lived off-campus in married housing. Allie seldom visited the school and was never able to attend any classes-she was too busy bearing our children and running a day care in our apartment to pay the bills. I spent my days alone, studying. Most of the classes were huge, taught by brilliant professors who had no idea who I was.
On her single visit to our apartment, the seminary's pastor for married students, a hawkish woman in her fifties, sat on our couch with a teacup balanced on her knees and, after verifying our names, brightly asked, "So, how's your sex life?" Stunned, we both said, "Fine," and the interview was over.
In truth, nothing was fine. We were alone, and we were slowly drowning.
The worst part for me came on a trip that Allie and I took to New York City, an outing sponsored jointly by the seminary and a feminist group called Women Against Pornography. Our guide took us on a walking tour of Times Square. We followed her through porn shops as she declaimed about the exploitation of women by the sex industry. She sent us into a peepshow in one of the shops, tokens in hand, so that we could see the horror for ourselves. I got my first look at hardcore pornography with my wife sitting beside me in one of those tiny blackened booths. The flickering images disgusted us both and we couldn't wait to get outside. But at the same time, somewhere deep inside me I could feel a strange and beckoning fascination, as though a cellar door had been opened. Those images lit a fire in me that would burn uncontrollably for nearly twenty years, a fire that smolders still.
Until the Times Square incident, drugstore magazines, pulp novels, and Hollywood movies had fed my secret sexual fantasies. Overnight, however, my taste shifted to more explicit fare, and I soon found myself venturing alone into the seamy underworld of X-rated theaters and sex shops in search of this powerful new drug.
A shameful cycle quickly developed. It would begin with a feeling of emptiness or dissatisfaction, followed quickly by a craving for relief. As the craving grew, previous pledges to resist it would rapidly evaporate, and before long, consciously or unconsciously, I would start formulating a plan. The plan always required deception-a precautionary cover story to account for the time and money I would need for my fix. Sometimes I concealed the plan so well from my conscious self that I was actually surprised when my car turned, apparently of its own volition, into the parking lot of the theater or shop.
The risk of being seen and the thrill of violating a taboo would trigger a rush of adrenaline as I approached the door. I would feel the first surge of dopamine-the mood-altering chemical cascade in the brain so prized by cocaine addicts and long-distance runners-as I perused the merchandise and made my selection. Inevitably, however, the wave of good feeling would dissipate. The euphoria would pass, leaving me disappointed, awash in self-loathing, cursing myself for my stupidity, and promising never ever to do that again. I would step back into my regular life with renewed resolve, but before long my inner emptiness and dissatisfaction would start screaming for relief, and the cycle would begin again.
On one of these forays, I stepped out of a peepshow booth and almost bumped into an assistant professor from the seminary. I immediately turned and fled, praying he hadn't recognized me, but a few days later he accosted me in the theological library. He said it was good to know that I was open-minded, and he wanted me to understand that his wife was fully aware of his activities. It made their marriage more interesting. Did my wife feel the same way? I blanched, suddenly remembering that our wives had met. No, I told him, she most certainly didn't. Well then, he said conspiratorially, we both had a very good reason to keep this matter quiet, didn't we?
Excerpted from Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin Copyright © 2007 by Nate Larkin. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Nate Larkin, a former pastor who earned his M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, is now a freelance writer and speaking coach, as well as the founder of The Samson Society.
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One of the most refreshing and engaging reads that I have encountered. For anyone that enjoys real life stories with authentic struggles. Encouraging trust in God without the 'Leave it to Beaver' endings. Larkin points readers to faith in God and brotherhood of believers as we live this life together.
As each man reads this book, the light of Christ burns brighter in his heart. There is not a man that I have suggested this book to that has not come back and said, "Let's do it!!" Nate is suggesting here, something for men that we all long for but are too manly to admit we need it...Help in the long walk. As a former Marine, I know what it means to have that man that is willing to fall back with you when you grow weary, the man willing to stop and help you up, then carry part of your burden or even you, that man willing to shout in your ear to get up and MOVE IT!!! Men - even though Salvation is our own to claim and freely given to each individual, we are meant to walk together. Women are our help-mates and men...well, they are our brothers our shield bearers. We are to be part of the Body of Christ. You go into battle with a shield-man for a reason - to protect your flank and cover your back. Read this, implement this, walk together. Be men of courage.