Jesus wept; there's no shame in that

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Years ago, my wife had the opportunity to interview Jim Brady, the onetime press secretary for President Reagan. Brady's work for the 40th president came to abrupt end March 30, 1981, when Brady was shot in the head.

What Lois recalls about talking to Brady, who is still alive, is that he had great difficulty controlling his emotions. He would be in the middle of a sentence and just start weeping inexplicably. Brady couldn't help it, of course. But most of us find it unnerving when men cry.

The May 4 edition of the Wall Street Journal has a story about the differences in the way men and women cry. The average woman, the article reports, cries 5.3 times a month. For men, it's 1.4 times. Who measures such things anyway?

There are two types of tears. Irritant tears wash out the eyes of dust, dirt and other foreign bodies. Emotional tears occur as a response to other factors: stress, pain, et al. Humans are the only species that cries for emotional reasons. My sense is, if you took away irritant tears from men, the figure of 1.4 times a month would drop precipitously.

Part of the disconnect between genders is physical. The cells of female tear glands look different than men's. Male tear ducts are larger and so, the story goes, tears do not spill out onto their cheeks as quickly as women. To put it somewhat indelicately, the drainage pipe men have for tears is pretty large in comparison to women, so men appear to hide their emotions more easily. Also, apparently, testosterone helps raise the threshold between emotional stimuli and crying. As men age, however, testosterone levels drop; ergo, crying increases in older men.

Social conditioning also plays a part. Men are told to "man up," if tears begin to well. Crying in men seems to connote weakness -- recall the slapping scene in the 1970 movie "Patton," in which a shell-shocked soldier begins weeping in front of the famous World War II general. Patton's response, based on a real incident, was to slap the helmet off the young man and to order his immediate return to the battle front. (Patton's action caused a reprimand to be placed on his record and he was ordered to make a public apology.)

To all of the aforementioned, since I am male, I remind you of the shortest verse in the Bible: "Jesus wept." (John 11:35) A friend of the master, Lazarus, died and it occasioned in Jesus a period of crying. To the male readers of this column, if you are ever told to "man up" when tears appear in your eyes, remember the toughest man in history broke down and wept after hearing of a friend's death. Scripture never tells us that Jesus ever laughed but it does reveal that he cried.

There's no science to reference in my final statement here, but just consider this anecdotal observation, fellows: Do you think one of the reasons women tend to outlive men is that they cry without shame? The answer to "man up" is: Jesus wept. Case closed.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau.

Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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