A few months ago, I posted about a Catholic men”s camping trip that I went on with the group Wilderness Outreach and the need for a renewal of authentic masculine spirituality in the Catholic Church. I had promised some more information on Wilderness Outreach and today I deliver that to you. John Bradford, the founder of Wilderness Outreach, was so gracious as to take some time to answer a few questions about this.
BW: John, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about Wilderness Outreach. Can you begin by giving us a brief introduction of yourself?
John: Yes, Bob and thank you. I was born in 1952 in Lancaster Ohio where I presently live with my wife Laura. I grew up in a family construction company where I had the great fortune to work with and be mentored by God-fearing, hardworking, tough intelligent men. Following graduation from high school I studied and received a degree in physics at Ohio University where I later in life earned an MBA.
Following college I took a less traditional career and family path, packed up my tools and headed west to California where I spent 4 years as a construction entrepreneur and wilderness backpacker. This is the time that I cultivated a sense of adventure and love for the wilderness.
I am a convert to the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Though I grew up as protestant, my father instilled in me a desire for the search for the truth. As I matured from the late 20’s to my early forties, this search became more intense as God drew me to him. I was on a quest to find the optimum synthesis of Faith and Reason. The Holy Spirit aided greatly in this search by bringing Laura and I together in the early 1990’s, and following my conversion to the Church we were married in October of 1994. Needless to say, I came home to the Citadel of Faith and Reason.
I continued the family tradition of construction and Laura and I formed our own construction company. As the years went by Laura would occasionally ask me the question “What are you going to do when you are 60 years old?” Since I loved working in construction, loved the people, challenges and environment I would always answer “Continue to work until I am 80 and then think about options.” Finally one day after she asked me that question again, somewhat irritated I responded “Why do you keep asking me that question?” She responded “Because I think you should find something that is more God centered”
When I heard these words the irritation melted away. I knew she was speaking of something deep and profound. She knew that I loved the construction work but even more knew that God was calling me to something more important.
There was something stirring in my heart during this time. I was thinking and dreaming about adventures in the wilderness; in the rugged mountains of the American west. When I mentioned this to Laura, I was expecting her to say “What does backpacking have to do with God?” But she didn’t and wholeheartedly supported my desires and dreams.
Within the year I was backpacking, but I was backpacking alone, which somewhat concerned her. I would be gone for days by myself with no cell phone contact. Was I okay, alive, injured or eaten by a bear? Laura suggested that I find some men who would backpack with me. So I went on a hunt for old friends who would join me on these new adventures but found none.
BW: So, why did you decide to start Wilderness Outreach?
John: One of the goals of adventure that I had cherished was to through hike the 2650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. So Laura looked up the PCT on the internet and found that the PCTA sponsored trail building trips ranging from an easy weekend in the front country to rugged ones that lasted for 10 days into the deep backcountry. Of course I chose the most difficult one; a 10 day, 15 mile hike in and out, trail project in the Diamond Peak Wilderness in Oregon. And that is where I landed in August of 2006 with a group of ½ male, ½ female, young, secular, Americorp adults in their early to mid-20’s.
This was a fertile laboratory, not only as a study of secular youth culture, but masculine and feminine spirituality and, how “no matter how much things change, they remain the same”. Though the cultural corruption was evident, the young women wanted to be treated like ladies and wanted the young men to behave like real men, real gentlemen. They wanted to talk and build relationship before doing the work. The young men, though collapsing into sloth and boorishness at times, thirsted for intellectual, spiritual and physical challenge from other men that lies at the creation of true masculine fraternity. They wanted to dive into the work and stop talking about it.
Before long I gained the young men’s respect and confidence from my ability to work and think. I soon found that I could challenge them on several different levels: work, language and thinking. I challenged them to set higher goals for work productivity. I challenged them to clean up their language and I challenged them to think about where their assumed mental models came from. It wasn’t until the end of the project that they actually figured out I was religious, that I was Roman Catholic. And then instead of disrespecting me for my faith, they wanted to know more about it. So the real reason the Holy Spirit “drove me into this wilderness” was revealed. It was to bring together all of my experiences and education so that I could see what work that He wanted me to do for Him; The work of helping to mentor boys and men into authentic manhood; authentic Christ centered manhood.
When I returned home the first men I told this experience to were Fr. Charles Kelly, a priest and friend from the Sacramento Diocese, and Andrew Kebe, Mission Director for Saint Paul”s Outreach in Columbus, Ohio. Fr Kelly in essence said “This is work that is needed for men and boys in the Church”. What I heard the Holy Spirit say was “This is you calling”. Andrew Kebe’s response was “Can we do that?” And of course the answer was “Yes!” The following summer of 2007 Wilderness Outreach and some men from Saint Paul’s Outreach put together the first Wilderness Outreach expedition in the John Muir Wilderness.
BW: What is the Mission of Wilderness Outreach?
John: The mission of Wilderness Outreach is to challenge priests, seminarians and laymen to discover, embrace and develop their God-given manhood. We provide the faith, reason and science that show that men and women are fundamentally different and why men are the natural providers and protectors of Church and family. We strengthen and train men to assume the roles of leadership for the battle against secular culture, the building of an authentic Roman Catholic culture, and the New Evangelization.
BW: Can you describe for us what happens on an expedition? Who usually goes? Where do you go? What do you do?
John: We provide wilderness expeditions for a number of different types of men’s groups: vocations directors and their seminarians, priests and laymen, and parish men’s groups. We have had mixtures of young and older men and seminarians. The group size ranges from a minimum of 8 to a maximum of 15. It generally takes about 10 full days to complete an expedition with 7 full days in the wilderness and the required travel. To date, all of the expeditions have been in the mountains of the American west; California, Idaho, Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado.
The actual expedition starts with a 5-15 mile full backpack hike into a wilderness base camp. Outfitters with horses and mules generally pack in our kitchen, food and tools though there have been some more rugged expeditions where we have packed everything in ourselves.
After we have set up the base camp and our tents, we find a location for the sanctuary and then build the Altar of Sacrifice, seating and ambo where the daily Mass is celebrated. Each morning starts about 5:00am followed by Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours at 5:45, the Angelus at 6:00am followed by the blessing of the meal and breakfast.
By 7:00am we are heading out onto the trail to work with hand tools like crosscut saws, pulaskis, axes and pick mattocks. We clear fallen trees, build rock structures or build new trails. And we work hard. The quantity and quality of trail work done by Wilderness Outreach men is unequalled.
At 12:00 noon we pray the Angelus, bless the food and eat lunch. The work day is concluded by around 3:00pm with a hike back into basecamp where the men rest and enjoy silence and solitude before the 5:00pm celebration of the Mass. The Angelus and blessing is prayed at 6:00pm followed by dinner.
Two hour evening conferences are held each night started with Evening Prayer. Teams of men lead 2 hour discussions about the Theology of Masculine Spirituality, our struggle with secular culture and becoming the men God made us to be. Each evening is concluded with Night Prayer and then the men head off to their tents.
BW: John, an expedition sounds like an amazing experience. How can a man sign up for this?
John: Any man interested in participating can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a registration form or call me at 614-679-6761. More information can also be found at Wilderness Outreach”s website.
BW: Unfortunately, not everyone can go on an expedition. What are other things men can do to foster authentic masculine spirituality in their lives?
John: There are a couple things. Wilderness Outreach does offer weekend experiences in the state forests of the east. These are for the same groups of men that the expeditions serve in addition to fathers and sons and parish male youth groups.
Men must come to realize and understand the Theology of their Bodies and how God the Father made us for the frontier, the unknown; that a man has natural desires for a Search for Truth, Creation and Battle. However we as men have allowed secular culture to sideline us and make us soft.
In order to stay sharp and in the battle men must live intentionally by committing to a lifetime of training on the 3 pillars of formation; the Physical, Intellectual and the Spiritual. The Physical not only means staying in good shape and eating right but engaging the physical world in God centered acts of creation and building. The Intellectual life means living a life dedicated to the dogged search for the truth through constant reading in inquiry. Finally Spiritual formation comes with understanding that the life of prayer of a man is different from the life of prayer of a woman; that God the Father gave us his Son Jesus Christ as the masculine archetype for men and that he gave us the Virgin Mary as the feminine archetype for women.
BW: Thanks again John for taking the time for this interview. As a way to close, do you have any recommendations on books about masculine spirituality for men to read?
John: Some of books that we have read and discussed on Wilderness Outreach expeditions are:
1) Supernatural Fatherhood by Fr. Carter Griffin
2) The Three Marks of Manhoodby Dr. G.C. Dilsaver
3) Wild at Heart by John Eldredge
4) The Way of the Wild Heart by John Eldredge
5) He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Cizek S.J.
6) The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
7)The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
8) Spiritual Combat Revisited by Fr. Jonathan Robinson
9) How to Win the Culture War by Peter Kreeft
10) Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft
I also recommend:
11) Manning Up by Kay Hymowitz
12) by Mary Eberstadt
13) Taking Sex Differences Seriously by Steven Rhoades
14) Heresy: 10 Lies They Spread about Christianity by Michael Coren
15) The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church by Christopher Kaczor
16) Written on the Heart: The Case for Natrual Law by J Budziszewski