One of my favorite places to visit in the London area is Hampton Court, one of the palaces of Henry VIII. It is a beautiful Tudor palace with an incredible garden. Like most of the historic sites around that time, it is littered with information about perhaps England’s most infamous monarch.
By most accounts, Henry VIII started out a decent Monarch. He did the usual kingly things, married well, won some important battles and strengthened his hold on the country. Most of Henry’s court considered him to be a handsome, educated, athletic, charismatic and accomplished ruler of his time. In his prime, Henry was lean and muscular and stood just over 6 feet. He was an imposing figure for his time.
Henry the Bully
The Henry most of us know is the fat monarch who went through a lot of wives. That Henry came about mostly after a jousting accident that left Henry with a badly injured leg that never properly healed leaving him in constant pain and bitter temperament. It is also possible that the accident caused head trauma that impacted Henry’s overall mood. However, one thing holds true. Henry was a bully.
Because of his title, stature, education and ability to beat people up, Henry was pretty used to getting what he wanted. Long before he was the fat angry man he was already domineering and willing to do anything to anyone to get what he wanted. Hampton Court was originally the home of Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s right hand. Wolsey made a reputation and good living by doing one job specifically. Keep the king happy and get him what he wants. It worked well for Wolsey until he couldn’t get an annulment of the marriage between Henry and his first wife Catherine of Aragon from the Pope. Instead, Henry set up his own church (the one I happen to work for…so thanks) and Wolsey was sent into a sort of exile where he later died of sickness. As thanks for his years of service Henry rewarded Wolsey with exile and taking everything he owned, including Hampton Court.
Alpha Male Bullies
I may seem like a harsh historian to this point but the truth is I have issues with alpha male bullies. Probably, because I used to be one. Like men my age I was raised to be good at sports, be charismatic, be smart and be successful (sound like anyone?). None of these things are inherently bad. I don’t blame my parents, teachers or youth workers for raising me this way. It was the norm and the truth is it has been that way for a long time. What I realized about this mentality is that it hid the fact that I was a bully. Most of my years in school I picked on people. I was generally quick witted and so finding ways to make fun of people seemed a perfectly good exercise of my intellect. I was good at it. I was also good at arguing so whenever someone disagreed with me I simply out talked, out thought, or out yelled them until I got what I wanted.
I wish I could say I found Jesus and had some sort of instantaneous life change but the truth is going on 32 years of age I still struggle not to be this way. My most basic reactions and responses pull me towards these types of behaviors and attitudes.
The Church’s Role
What I struggle with is that even now in a society that seems to be moving towards equality, anti-bulling, celebrating sensitivity, etc. the Church seems to be stuck applauding Henry’s. Boys are still encouraged to be all those things and often we see them fill the vacancies in and around our church. In my time in ministry I have lost count of how many bullies I have seen take control of churches or youth groups. I am begging you please! No more.
Last week at church we showed a film that told the story of girls in Malawi being child brides. About 15 minutes after that we went to our youth night to start watching The Shack and when it got to the scene where the father was beating his son one of my boys in the youth group came up to me choking back tears asking if he could be dismissed. I walked out of the back of the room with him and asked him what was wrong. He shared how he didn’t like seeing a father do that to a son, and how he didn’t like seeing those girls being taken advantage of. He was something much stronger than Henry VIII, he was sensitive.
So often we push sensitivity out of our youth. We live in a culture that is ok with being politically correct but not sensitive. We train up so many young people to be bold, strong or courageous. We have all sorts of Christian songs, t-shirts, stickers and bracelets encouraging them to be brave, but where is the encouragement to be sensitive.
When I look at Jesus I see all those things. Looking at his life and what he ultimately did for us I don’t think you could find someone bolder or braver. I also don’t think you could find a better example of sensitivity. Jesus was the man who listened to his mom at Cana. He was the man who stood up to the crowd on behalf of the woman caught in adultery. He showed incredible kindness to the blind, sick and lepers of his time. He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus and the pain of Mary and Martha. He showed mercy to the mocking crowds of the cross.
Jesus was the type of person I want to be like. He was the type of person I want my youth to be like. He was not a bully. He was not Henry VIII.
Denny Burda is the Senior Youth Minister at St. Paul’s Howell Hill in the United Kingdom. After over a decade in youth ministry in the States, Denny, his wife Merina and their cat Elliott followed God on their big adventure of a new life in a new culture.