Property, BMW’s, and John 17: Masculinities and Ownership (part 2)

Posted on May 17, 2012


In my previous post I discussed issues of ownership in masculinities. The excerpt from Michael Ian Black’s book aided my discussion of some ways in which gender identity is constructed by ownership of things. Broadly, I presented ownership as a relationship in which the owner is defined both by the type of possession and the way in which the possession responds to the owner. But while instances such as Black’s BMW escapade provide examples of public demonstrations of power, the relationality seen in Black’s self-described “d—-bag” masculinity also exposes itself as extremely unstable. Of course, all identities are unstable and constantly under negotiation, but when we consider identity as something solid, internal, and unchanging, challenges to that identity quickly become “crises” (more on the misnomer of “masculinity in crisis” in later posts). And, as has been seen historically, demonstrated and critiqued succinctly here in the Feministe blog, when adherents to masculinities of ownership feel threatened the response is often violent. However, alternatives are both necessary and abundant, and John 17 presents provides an opportunity to reject the necessity for the identity “man as masculine.”

John 17 (particular verses 6-19) features Jesus and his disciples in the midst of a long conversation and by 17:6 Jesus appears to be communicating with his Father. While definitely a dense block of text, one point is clear: Jesus is concerned about his followers, his friends, and significantly, his property. Shared between him and the Father (v. 6), Jesus recognizes that he has been “glorified in them” (v. 10). In fact, at this point, we see the first difference between Black’s ownership masculinity and that of Jesus and his Father. Black and his wife shared a couple cars, but the one one which he had comment, their VW Bug, was a source of shame unlike his BMW, which brought him glory. On the contrary, Jesus and the Father share these disciples and, even so, he claims the the pride they find within their relationship with Jesus’ followers.

The masculinity of ownership performed by Jesus and the Father in this passage is different from dominant masculinity performances in a second way: the focus of “sanctification” is put not solely on the owner but also on the possession. Indeed, the Father has ownership of these disciples, but rather than entering into that relationship only for the purpose of domination and personal glory, he has been petitioned by Jesus to also “sanctify” (v. 19) and “protect” them (v. 11). So, as Jesus states, both he and the Father are honored in this relationship, but also recognize the ways in which property is affected by this very relationship, a phenomenon only implicitly acknowledged by Black with his BMW.

Finally, the question must be asked, “In the midst of this ‘glory’ and ‘sanctity’ language, what do these two words even mean?” Certainly John has his own vocabulary, one with which I cannot begin to engage, however the use of “glory” in John must be called into question, because of the Gospel’s impending climax: the crucifixion. When Jesus is lifted up on the Cross, proclaimed as the “King of the Jews” in three languages (19:19-20), then, John challenges these BMW masculinities. He takes notions of “glory” and redefines them as “shame” and “death.” Therefore, while the mechanics of ownership (an owner-possession relationship) and its goals (glory) are still present, Jesus and the Father have different priorities and move to either redefine glory or shame. And, in the end, they enter into this redefining relationship with a determination unto death.