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Lilly Colloquium Speaker: "Greatest Crisis in America Today is Crisis of Masculinity"

February 25, 2009

Category: Athletics, Events, Religion & Philosophy

Joe Ehrmann"The greatest crisis in America today is the crisis of masculinity," Catawba College's 2009 Lilly Colloquium speaker Joe Ehrmann told the audience gathered for his 11 a.m. address on February 24th in the Omwake-Dearborn Chapel. "Right behind that is the crisis of femininity and womanhood," he continued.

Ehrmann, the guest speaker for the sixth annual Lilly Colloquium, is a former NFL Pro who played for 13 years for the Baltimore Colts.   He followed his pro career by matriculating at Dallas Theological Seminary and Westminister Theological Seminary before being ordained as a minister in 1985.   Today, he serves as an inspirational speaker and seminar leader who works with organizations to promote growth, teamwork, effectiveness and individual responsibility.  

Ehrmann said he was fed three fundamental lies about masculinity as a boy and these same lies are still being fed to young men today.   The lies are 1) that masculinity is somehow based on athletic ability; 2) that masculinity equals prowess in sexual conquests; and 3) that masculinity is tied to economic success.   Because of these lies, Ehrmann said, role models for men and boys end up being professional athletes.

Girls too, he noted, are also fed three fundamental lies.   The lies are 1) that their value and worth as human beings are dependent on a person's beauty, body and size; 2) that every worthy woman will be rescued by some Prince Charming; and 3) that in order to be accepted, women must defer to others, be docile and be dominated.  

Popular culture and the media reinforce these lies with false messages, he said, while in reality, "two things alone define what it means to be a man or a woman.

"First, all of life is about relationships and about the capacity to love and be loved.   The essence of success in life emanates from the heart.   And second, in order to die a good death, you need to have led a good life," he explained, adding "All of us need to have a purpose and a calling bigger than ourselves.

"We're men and women built by God to enjoy relationships and to give to a cause."  

Ehrmann talked about the turning point in his life when he dispensed with the three fundamental lies and changed his life's direction.   His younger brother, "the person I loved more than anyone in the world," died of cancer when Ehrmann was only seven years into his NFL career.   Ehrmann remembered his brother's burial.

"It was a cemetery in Buffalo in December.   The priest said the final amen and everyone turned and walked away from the gravesite," he explained, recalling an impulse to scream aloud in protest and thinking, "You mean this is it?"   Ehrmann asked himself where the meaning and value and purpose of life are achieved "and at age 29, I started this long spiritual journey in the presence of Christ."

Ehrmann told his audience that they "represent hope in your family, community and in this country."   He challenged them "to keep present realities open to future possibilities."

Joe EhrmannCalling himself a product of the 1960s in both high school and college, he said his generation "started the questions" about race and women's rights "but we still haven't answered those questions completely."   He said pro football taught him the concept of a team and the concept of community, but he read and studied to decipher the two truths he shared about men and women.

"How do we come together and cross old racial, social and geographical boundaries to make sure every boy and girl is given an opportunity to reach his or her God-given potential?" he queried and then answered his own question.   "You are the agents and signs of hope," he said.   "We need you to stand up, show up and speak up."

Since, 1995, Ehrmann has also served as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Gilman School in Baltimore, Md.   He is the subject of author Jeffrey Marx's book, "Season of Life," was a New York Times bestseller.   He and wife Paula, a psychotherapist, co-founded Building Men and Women for Others (BMWO), an organization that holistically addresses issues of masculinity and femininity.   The Ehrmanns are also co-founders of The Door, an inner city, community-based ministry that addresses issues of poverty, systematic racism and social justice. Ehrmann is the co-founder of Baltimore, Maryland's Ronald McDonald House which has served over 35,000 families from all over the world since its inception and is dedicated to the memory of his younger brother.

Catawba's Lilly Center for Vocation and Values is directed by Dr. Kenneth W. Clapp, senior vice president and chaplain.   The Center was established in 2003 and funded with a $2 million grant the College received from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. This year's Lilly Colloquium is sponsored by Catawba College's Lilly Center for Vocation and Values, Catawba's Development and Athletics Departments.   Previous notable speakers who have participated in the annual Lilly Colloquiums include Leonard Pitts, Martin Marty, David Bornstein, Sharon Parks and Mackey Austin.


PhotosPHOTOS: Joe Ehrmann Speaks at Catawba