What’s the deal with Exodus 90? My interview with James Baxter

 
It’s a highly regimented program that requires guys to commit to daily holy hours and structured weekly meetings with other enrollees for prayer, accountability, and encouragement. But it’s the ascetic practices that get the most press. For ninety days, men who enroll take cold showers, exercise vigorously, sleep seven hours a night, don’t consume alcohol, sweets, snacks, or sweet drinks, don’t watch TV or movies or sports, and don’t play video games; they don’t make non-essential purchases, they only listen to “music that lifts the soul to God,” they only use the computers and mobile devices when necessary, and they fast and abstain on Wednesdays and Fridays.
 
The non profit program “summons men back to the foundations of their faith, stripping them of worldly addictions and reinvigorating their devotion to Christ.” The ninety days may not be long enough to conquer a lifetime of bad habits, but it’s long enough to establish a “roadmap to freedom.”
 
I’ve heard Catholic men say that the program turned their lives around and redirected them toward Christ and family when they’d let bad habits and even grave sin take over their lives. I’ve heard women say that their husbands finished the ninety days more grounded, humble, prayerful, and focused on family life than ever before. 
 
And I’ve heard men say that they were bullied and shamed into joining, and that they found the program to be just one more muscle-flexing club of swaggering and one-upsmanship, with a thin spiritual veneer. I’ve heard women say that they didn’t want their husbands to do it, but he insisted he needed to for his spiritual health, and now he won’t watch movies with her or have a glass of wine; he harasses her to get off her phone because he’s not on his, insists on special meals, and never has time to help her with the kids because there’s always a meeting to go to with his spiritual brothers; and on top of that, he’s cranky all the time because of the things he had to give up. 
 
I’ve heard holy and sensible priests rave about the wonderful spiritual fruits it’s bearing for their flock, and I’ve heard arrogant and foolish priests rave about how it’s transforming soft, effeminate guys into Real Catholic Men. 
 
I didn’t know what to think, so I called up James Baxter, the 28-year-old Executive Director and Co-Founder of Exodus 90, and asked him some questions. Here’s our conversation. 
 
How did you come to be involved with Exodus 90?
 
I went to seminary right out of high school, at age 18. A mentor started me on [this program]. He had been doing it [with seminarians] for about three years, and he said that this program had been fruitful. I discerned the Lord was calling me to secular life. He said, “What if we share this with laymen who don’t have the community of the seminary? Maybe you could get to work on that.” 
 
Was the original program for all seminarians, or some particular group with particular struggles?
 
At the beginning, from what I understand, it was just five guys, all young men who had been struggling with purity in one form or another. It was so fruitful for them, the priest started ten other groups with fifty men over the next few years. It started as an experiment, and multiplied from there. 
 
What changes were made when it was adapted for laymen?
 

To be honest, we didn’t change much [at first]. That was partly due to my ignorance, because I was newly out of seminary. I didn’t know any better. I never saw my role to change what was working, but to share what was working, with one exception: They were meeting more frequently, and that was untenable. 

Most [enrolled men] are laymen, married with children. We encourage our men to meet one time per week, in a short, structured way. 
 
Is there some particular reason this program is especially needed in the year 2020?
 
No one knows about the ascetic tradition of the Church. Few people can even say the word. We had a decision to make. We ended up redefining and re-presenting it. In 2020, it’s been important for us to re-present that important part of our faith, reframing asceticism in a positive way, not a self-demeaning way. 
 
Set the clock back 100 years, and a lot of what we’re proposing [would have been] baked into daily life. Life is now easier, quicker, faster, more comfortable. Sometimes Exodus can be framed as very intense, but it’s very simple stuff. It’s not that challenging once you get into the rhythm of it. 
 
We’d been going along just fine, with a few thousand guys doing the program. Then things broke out last year, and about 10,500 men joined between January and March. With the sex abuse crisis blowing up, men wanted a way to kind of channel their desire for greater holiness and reform in the Church, and they looked to Exodus to accomplish that. I didn’t expect that. That really drove the attraction to the message of freedom we’ve been trying to share. 
 
Is there some specific kind of man who would especially benefit from going through the program?
 

The values of prayer, asceticism, and community, with accountability and encouragement, are so important for every tradition. These values are important for every Christian. But we’re not claiming, “Do this or you’re not Christian.” We would never say anything like that. 

But if these values and principles are not in your faith, then let it begin, and you can let Exodus be your springboard. 

Are there people who would not benefit from the program or who should steer clear? 
 

It’s not for guys with scruples. When we meet men that struggle with that, it could cause them greater anxiety, and that’s not what God wants for you. 

Some guys come to it as if it’s a twelve-step program. We’re front and center that it’s not an addiction program.

My goals are not only about reaching more men, but about supporting men better, and offboarding men who are looking for something, and they found Exodus, but it’s not for them. [We want to be] getting them with a therapist, a spiritual director, support resources within their communities. 

 
What role does a spiritual director play?
 
At the beginning, the ideal was to have priests leading all these groups, but that became untenable. The director is there to keep the train going, to keep presenting the fundamental message of freedom, to offer basic exhortations. To remind everyone what this is about and to keep their eyes fixed on the Lord. In parishes, we’ve seen all kinds of interesting models.
 
Diocesan priests who don’t have great community have been really blessed using Exodus to form priestly communities. We encourage priests to do it with other priests for greater accountability and vulnerability, with men who understand their circumstances. 
 
Is there oversight to keep the experience uniform from group to group, or is there a lot of variation in how it’s carried out? 
 
Here is what makes for a successful fraternity: One, you know what you’re getting into; two, you’ve got a good fraternity of solid men, and it’s not just some machismo exercise; and three, you have the “why.” [You ask:] Is the Lord calling you? What do you want to get out of this? If you’re just going through the motions, it’s not going to take you anyplace you need to go. 
 
When I meet guys through our program, sometimes they’re disappointed by how not-hardcore I am. They expect me to be chest beating. That’s a stereotype of men generally and of ministry for men in the Church. But if you know anything about me, that’s not who I am or how I work. It’s certainly not informing what we’re trying to do. 
 
We’re not trying to be this elite group or the Navy Seals of Catholics. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The common thread is a desire for greater freedom, and that takes humility. If I’ve got idols that keep me from intimacy with the Lord and my family, I need to offer that to God so I can be a better spouse and family man. 
 
Yet I’ve heard women say that the program harms their marriage. Their husbands refuse the food they prepare, harass them not to spend time on their phones, don’t get up to help with childcare at night because they need their 7 hours, and seem to value brotherhood with the group more than family time, and that it alienates them because they can’t watch movies together, can’t have a drink together, can’t text. They also say that the required time for study, exercise, and fellowship means time away from family. Is this a problem you’re aware of?
 
Yes, I’m aware. Yes, I’m concerned. I just had my first son, and the idea of not getting up with your son at night hurts me, it pains me. I’ll be thinking about that. 
 
This [was originally] a seminary program, and the frame of marriage and family wasn’t there from the start. For example, the first program didn’t say anything about going to confession or going to the Eucharist. We presumed they would, because it was the seminary. It was the same kind of thing with marriage. 
 

So last year, we overhauled the onboarding. We have this comprehensive section about the Exodus man and his bride. One, how important it is to communicate what this entails with your spouse. If she’s not on board and it’s going to cause a rupture, don’t do Exodus!

Two, Exodus is your sacrifice. It’s not meant to be this burden you throw on anyone else. That’s basic. That’s how the Church presents penances. It’s not meant to be a show. 
 
Say your wife does something . . . say she prepared a meal and she wants you to eat meat, or she wants you to watch TV with her. You should do it. We highlighted that from the feedback we got.  
 
But if guys do struggle with distraction, or working too much, or watching too much sports, [their wives] are going to appreciate this [program]. But [if she doesn’t want her husband to do it], it doesn’t matter if her reasons are great or not. It shouldn’t be disruptive to the marriage. 
 
Why do you say this program is not for women, and you don’t endorse any program that’s been adapted for women?
 
The business folks in my life said it was a huge opportunity, and we should do that. But the whole program presumes you’re a man, and fatherhood is your destiny in one form or another. There’s nothing exclusive about prayer or asceticism or community; but we’ve written this expression of it for men. 
 
Last year this came to a head. “Where’s your women’s program?” There’s only three full-time guys on this, we’re already trying hard to keep up. We’re a bunch of men. You don’t want us writing a program for women. So we got a religious order we respected. Their whole mission revolves around feminine identity. We asked them, “Would you study Exodus, and if you think this is a model of healing for women, would you write a program, if you feel called to? “
 
Six months later, they said they didn’t believe this structure is a model of healing for women. 
 
All the women in my life are so much more rooted than most of the men are. Suffering is increasingly absent from most men’s life, but that’s not true for women. They are much more in touch with their own spirits than men are with theirs. It’s not that this is below women, but they’re kind of above this.  
In terms of the spin-offs: I’m not sure what to make of it. There are many each year. Some of them get bigger than others. 
 
My frustration goes back to what we said earlier: The Church has done a beautiful job of teaching about the complementarity of the sexes. But in application, it doesn’t get fully lived out. 
 
What happens if you start the program and you’re still in the middle of it when Easter comes? Do you just keep on being ascetic, despite what the liturgical calendar says?
 
On Sundays and solemnities, you relax a single discipline during the course of Exodus. Our encouragement it to follow the liturgical calendar. The vast majority of men come in at the beginning of the year. 
 
If most people are honest with themselves about how they celebrate solemnities, they’re not doing it well. They’re doing whatever they would like. In the past, solemnities didn’t run roughshod over ascetic practices. If what you call “celebration” looks like gluttony, then Exodus is going to be a threat.
 
It’s important to listen to why people are so much more excited about Advent than they are about Christmas. Advent is so great, but then you get tired of Christmas after you do it for six days. Some of it has to do with our religious practices getting thrown to the wind in the spirit of celebration. 
 
 
It looks like it’s pitting men against women. Did you change this because of criticism, or because you no longer believe it represents what you do?
 
That article is not on our site for a reason. I took it off. It’s not a great representation of where we are today and where we want to go. That article is from the first site, from 2016, and I guess it just stayed there. I don’t have much to say other than it’s not on our site now for a reason.
 
Over 50% of our guys are under the age of 34. That’s an anomaly in men’s ministry. When we look at what attracts young men, I don’t think that kind of [masculinity vs. femininity] stuff really speaks to young men’s hearts. They crave authenticity, a place to be real, a place to be known. This is why we’re flourishing in a way that few other men’s apostolates are. 
 
When we look at the sexes as though it’s a war, and not through the lens of complimentary, we’re not seeing them through the eyes of God. I don’t want to defend that article. That’s why it’s not on our site. 
 
And yet, for instance, Taylor Marshall’s name is on your site, and he’s known for talking a lot about rejecting feminization in the Church. He did that thing where he made fun of seminarians for making gingerbread houses. So you can see why people make the association between Exodus 90 and the kind of men’s groups that do seem to be at war with women. 
 
We rely on media partners to get the word out for us. I don’t do enough telling of our own story. If you listen to that podcast I did with Taylor Marshall, it’s [about] a presentation of freedom through the lens of his testimony. It’s for freedom that Jesus Christ set us free. He didn’t bring up anything like what you mention. 
 
People are going to try to frame the work we’re doing, because of the media partners that share our work. But I hope they listen to us
 
EDIT Jan 15, 5:28
Baxter has asked me to amend his answer. The original version as published is accurate transcription of our conversation, but I am adding his additional commentary as a courtesy, as he does not wish to distance himself from Taylor Marshall. Baxter’s addition is as follows:

Your question presumes that Dr. Taylor Marshall is on a “war with women” when he speaks about the feminization of the Church. That’s not true, nor do I believe that to be a fair treatment of him or his work or his mission in the Church today. If you listen to the interview I did with Dr. Marshall, it’s [about] a presentation of freedom through the lens of his testimony. Not many know this, but his testimony (in our first year) shaped me profoundly and how we are going about our work. In it, he shared about the movements he experienced through the ninety-day process. And we have observed them now in thousands of other men. This is why we call Exodus a spiritual exercise and not another program. There’s a spiritual depth to Dr. Marshall that matches his intellect and that has always struck me. I am grateful for him and his help in sharing our mission with men that otherwise would not have heard it.

 
Are you affiliated with Legion of Christ in any way? Is your program inspired by Legion spirituality? 
 
We are not. We have a relationship, but not an affiliation. Frankly, a lot of guys in the Legion of Christ took to Exodus in past year, and the Legion priests took notice, and supported it in their apostolate.
 
That’s what’s been so amazing to me in the last five years. We promise we’re not the next Knights of Columbus. We’re not trying to take your men away. Your men will be more free for the charism or mission you have for them. Exodus layers beautifully into preexisting apostolates. That’s why our site has a lot of partners. We don’t even list half of them. 
 
I’m frequently in contact with people who, if they knew who else I was in contact with, they would be skeptical. But there’s nothing political about us. We are entirely independent. 
 
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My take: In our conversation, James Baxter struck me as sincere and forthright, and very focused on doing the Lord’s work. He answered all my questions as thoroughly as he could, and humbly thanked me more than once for asking the more probing questions.
 
I looked through some of the materials that members have access to, and they look solid, thorough, sensible, and sometimes very illuminating, and they are clear that they provide a roadmap for freedom, not a guarantee of success; and I liked that it strives to exhort men to goodness without resorting to shame as a motivator. 
 
The portion guiding men through talking over the program with their wives was okay but limited, and perhaps overly optimistic about how easily couples communicate and solve differences. I could easily imagine a selfish or immature man distorting the recommendations to bulldoze over her wishes and the good of the family.  I hope that future programs will put more emphasis on the idea that the wife may be a better judge than the husband about whether the burden on the family is too great.
 
I was very encouraged at Baxter’s insistence that the program is not for everybody, and by his awareness that they need to put more emphasis on helping men discern if the program is right for them before the sign on, and more emphasis on helping men find other programs or help if Exodus 90 isn’t right for them. This is one of the marks of a real apostolate that seeks to serve, rather than hungering for more members at any cost. 
 

Because of the rapid growth of the program, and because it’s for laymen and doesn’t involve trained leaders, the information they put out is very vulnerable to misuse, and I’m not sure what can be done about that. There will be some bad groups full of bad guys encouraging each other to do bad things; and there are almost certainly groups that are overly focused on fitness and self-improvement, rather than on sacrifice and surrender to God. I believe this happens. I also believe that some of the groups are places where the Holy Spirit does great things and really transforms lives and families. 

  The group does seem to be taking surveys and making changes accordingly, which is a very healthy sign. They are at pains not to affiliate themselves directly with anyone, left or right, and seem willing to be misunderstood if it allows a wider net to be cast. 

I loved that they refrained from slapping together and marketing a women’s version, and that, when exploring the possibility of making a women’s version, they did not ever intend to write one themselves, but instead sought out the discernment of other women they trusted. (He told me the name of the order of sisters, and they are trustworthy.)
 
I agree with the notion that modern men can very easily fall into a life without physical or spiritual challenges; but that modern women still tend to encounter early on the idea that suffering is inescapable. There are, of course, female ascetics, and modern women do live relatively comfortable lives; but I take his point that this is something that men especially need. I could use some ascesis myself, but I doubt this particular program would do much besides mess with my head. 
 
I wish they would insist that men get their wives’ permission before signing up. (For the record, I would also wish a wife to get her husband’s permission before signing up for something that would affect the family for three months.) If I understand the materials right, a husband is supposed to prayerfully discern whether signing up would be in the family’s best interest, and then do his best to explain his decision to her, and reassure her that it won’t be a bad thing. I wish they would make it very clear that pressuring your wife to agree to something serious but optional is never a loving act. They do a pretty good job of reinforcing the idea that a married man’s vocation is served by serving his family; but since it’s the kind of program that will naturally appeal to more conservative types who are perhaps less prone to listen to their wives, I think they have a special obligation to make it crystal clear, over and over (not just in the beginning and the end) that it’s unacceptable to decide to make your wife unhappy in the name of God. 
 

The marketing overpromises, and is a bit obnoxious. “90 Days to a More Holy, More Healthy, More Manly You!” says a social media ad.

“In just 90 days, you’ll
-get rid of the habits that enslave you
-find true freedom in Christ
-strengthen your spiritual life and relationships”

says the poster in the parish kit.

I mean, maybe you will, maybe you won’t. I guess a little rinky dink is just how you sell stuff, and I don’t really have a problem with that. I do have a problem with the way some guys are pushing other guys to join, insinuating (or just stating) that only lesser man would refuse to take up this challenge. That’s pretty prevalent, unfortunately; but it doesn’t seem to be coming from inside the program itself (at least not since they took down that garbagey page about men who don’t want to be impotent and domesticated). Maybe that’s something they need to swat down more explicitly. I know it drives a lot of guys away, and maybe some of them would really have benefitted from signing on. 

The merchandise and website designs are clean and rugged, but not studded with ludicrously macho imagery (swords, grenades, targets, barbed wire) like so many Catholic men’s organizations. This may seem trivial, but I think it’s significant. 
 
Overall, if my opinion counts for anything, I think Exodus 90 looks like a potentially good thing that should get better as they continue to develop it. It sounds like it can be distorted to harm people, but what valuable thing cannot? It sounds like you will get out of it what you put into it. 

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45 thoughts on “What’s the deal with Exodus 90? My interview with James Baxter”

  1. I’m unclear on whether the seven hours of sleep requirement is supposed to be an increase or a decrease from the non-program baseline?

    1. Exactly, that’s what I thought too. As the mother of several little kids, I dream of a seven-hour night of sleep! It’s also true that my husband very rarely – and in only in extremely difficult circumstances (llike a kid with 104 fever or a toddler who’s projectile vomiting- gets up… It seems very hard for him to give up sleep. And I noticed this is the case with most of my friends’ husbands as well.

  2. I was puzzled by the somewhat combative tone that you took, Simcha, to this program. Wouldn’t it be the case that in any program of spiritual growth you would have people who misused it or who used it as a way to further their own selfishness? Is it that men ought not to have a program that challenges them in a very stereotypical way? Or is it that the popularity of it makes it likely that those who aren’t cut out for it will end up doing it anyway?

    As I read this interview, I was thinking of how much I as a woman have benefited from programs targeted towards women in particular — there were weekly or monthly meetings, spiritual practices that required some communication with my husband, and many opportunities for me to exhibit my own essential jerk-itude or sanctimony, but on the other hand they were so helpful and supportive to me. I needed them a lot, and I imagine the same is true for those who use Weight Watchers or AA or any other non-religious specific group as well. It seems to me that men are very much in need of such a program right now, and if it attracts them, I think it is a good thing.

    For the record, the men I know who have gone through this program have raved about the spiritual benefits they found doing it.

    1. I don’t think Simcha took a combative tone at all. I did. The reason I bristled against this Exodus 90 business is that it seems to cater to a man who doesn’t daily die to himself for his loved ones, the way a good husband and father should. Also a man who is only doing things like movies or texting for his own pleasure, rather than for strengthening bonds with his family, is an awful husband and father.

      Years ago, there was a priest who (I think) was the head of Catholic Charities. He was unable to complete the food stamp challenge because he had gotten tired of eating peanut butter and wanted to go out to eat. At that time, my husband and I were, for the first time in our lives, feeling comfortable financially. And yet, our higher than ever grocery bill at that time still wasn’t much more than what the food stamp challenge allotted. And our amount included things that can’t be purchased with food stamps, things like personal hygiene items, tin foil, and even socks and underwear (because I tend to buy those things where I buy my family’s groceries). And here was this priest, running a major US charity, and he wasn’t talking about food desserts and how he was lucky to be able to get his eggs and peanut butter at reasonable prices. Nope, he was complaining about how boring a limited budget was for him. It was clear to me he had ab-so-freaking-lutely no idea what it was like to be poor! In my mind, it was 1789 France and I was ready to send him to the guillotine!

      And this Exodus 90 thing brings up the same emotions for me. It just seems so out of touch and dismissive of the way a family man has to die for his family every single day. And, just like in the food stamp challenge, my husband and I are in a very comfy place in our family life – no really young kids, not crazy busy with the older kids’ activities, and work isn’t taking too much time. For the first time in years, my husband and I actually have some leisure time and haven’t listened to the Wiggles in the car in six or seven years. But still, fear of Type II, a small water heater, and paying stupid amounts of tuition takes its toll to the extent that, most weeks, my husband and I already do 6 to 8 of the things on that list just because that’s our particular season of life.

      I don’t think Exodus 90 is bad. And I think it can be tailored to suit a husband and wife to do it together. Perhaps letting us pick a meaningful vice or two. I know for my husband and me, giving up alcohol and severely limiting our computer use would evoke a suffering spirit. 🙂

  3. I thought that the “three pillars” were traditionally fasting, prayer and almsgiving/charity. The last one seems to be missing. Maybe that would help distinguish it from just another self-improvement program.

  4. “… not studded with ludicrously macho imagery (swords, grenades, targets, barbed wire) like so many Catholic men’s organizations. This may seem trivial, but I think it’s significant.”

    Yeah, doesn’t seem trivial to me. Thanks for making the point.

  5. This is very popular at my church. There are not very many men with young kids who do it however. The one who is doing it that I know is doing a significantly modified version of it so that he can fulfill his primary duty of keeping his five boys from breaking themselves or each other.

  6. On the way this program isn’t a path of growth for women: the world already pushes self-denial and self-restriction for women (especially mothers, but all women.) If we’re trying to embrace Christ and reject worldly attachments, it ain’t going to be through food restriction. Glad the Sisters realized that.

    1. I find food restriction to be a wonderful means of embracing Christ. A great way to offer up my suffering. Full disclosure: food restriction would probably have been too hard for me when I had young kids and wasn’t regularly sleeping through the night. Lack of sleep makes me grouchy and the very real sedating effect that comes with a bowl of chocolate ice cream or a few cookies would many times get me through the day without losing my cool. That extra 40 pounds I carried around for way too many years is probably saving my kids a lot of therapy.

      1. ”That extra 40 pounds I carried around for way too many years is probably saving my kids a lot of therapy.” ha! Great comment. THIS is true love.

    2. I think it’s striking that the FAQ about a women’s program recommends Endow, which is an study/discussion group, not a habit-forming program at all. That seems more appropriate to the particular challenges women face, and to Mary’s keeping things and pondering them in her heart.

      1. Agreed. When I was thinking about what women tend to need in the spiritual life, rather than self-denial, what came to mind was “time to think and reflect.”

  7. Oh, also – am I the only woman who finds it infuriating and infantilizing to be referred to as my husband’s “bride”? No, I’m not a bride, thank you very much, I’m a wife! Doesn’t favoring “bride” over “wife” imply that the maturity and the years of living and growing and acting together – i.e., the marriage itself – are a loss or diminution, rather than being the goal of marriage? As I recall, Bud McFarland was really into that “bride” language, too, back when he was pushing his “E5 Men” movement – before he ditched his own “bride”…

    1. Considering that bride, spouse and wife were all used once in that response, I don’t think bride was being preferred exactly. I think the word bride was meant as a way to remind guys of their wedding day, the promises they took and the love they had as they promised to serve their spouse for the rest of their life. Spouse and wife are used to emphasize the day to day living and how what you choose will affect your life-mate. They highlight different aspects of marriage without demeaning other parts.

      1. Yes, he used all three terms, but the “bride” one stuck out as unnatural because it is not, in fact, how we English speakers normally use the word, which suggests some kind of deliberate preference for the term. As I said, there have been a number of men’s apostolates and Catholic speakers in recent years that have made a point of referring to “brides” where normal usage would say “wives” and to me it’s become a red flag for immature machismo and even misogyny – as if the image you had of your wife when she was a beautiful 20-year-old you hardly knew yet, is more loveable than the actual 40-year-old woman you share a life and 4 kids with. Maybe that’s not true of Exodus 90, in which case great!

      2. But then a program that focuses on developing good habits in your day to day life should want to emphasize the connotations of “wife,” not “bride.”

    2. I have no idea where the E5 Men came from, but it is far and away The Best thing my husband has ever done for me. Every first Wednesday, I wonder why my day is going the way it is (either ridiculously smoothly OR an absolute Hades but I haven’t yelled at anyone) and then I remember… Ohhhh, yeah, the prayer and fasting.
      Anyway, just had to say that E5 is awesome and has nothing to do with how Exodus 90 is run.

      1. Oh, I didn’t mean to equate the two groups – I just noticed that the tone of their promotional materials is very similar, including the “bride” thing. About where E5 came from, I’m not positive Bud MacFarland was the founder, but he was definitely the main public face of it when I first heard about it. After his very publicized divorce, he generally scrubbed his name from all his “apostolates” even though he kept running many of them, so that might make the origins of E5 obscure, if he was indeed the main founder.

  8. Thanks for doing this. I’ve seen almost no dispassionate assessment of Exodus 90, given how prevalent it suddenly seems to be. In our Catholic circles right now (including my husband’s workplace) there’s quite a bit of pressure to join. All kinds of good bishops and priests seem to be promoting it unquestioningly, which I find a bit strange, since it’s quite opposite to the approach normally advised for Lenten observances by good and solid priests. (I.e., don’t try to give up all the things at once, choose something that will bring positive benefits to your family and those around you rather than punishing them, etc.) Also, our tradition has thought 40 days was long enough (plus a bit extra if you’re uber-traditional and do Sexuagesima) – where’s 90 coming from?

    One particular thing that puzzles me: why the total ban on watching sports and video games, but lack of any explicit attention to the pornography problem so many men struggle with today? I can’t help wondering whether foreswearing football, etc., is the best plan for a guy who struggles with a porn addiction (as I’m told so many do). Wouldn’t those things be relatively innocent displacement outlets for someone with that problem, actually? I guess the idea is they go work out at the gym instead, but I wonder how many would find that sustainable.

    To me it seems like Exodus 90 could make a lot of sense for seminarians – who generally have tons of free time and no mundane household chores or family commitments to keep them grounded. I’ve known seminarians and young priests who consume insane amounts of pop culture and spend crazy amounts of time playing computer games because of that aspect of seminary life, and I can see a quasi-monastic approach making sense in that context.

    But for normal family men, such a sweeping, one-size-fits-all approach seems really misdirected. E.g., in our family, we only watch a movie every two or three weeks, when we make a conscious choice to have a family movie night. So cutting it out might not be that hard, but on the other hand, it would be a change for the worse, not the better. Or meatless Wednesdays – it’s not such a big deal, but it makes packed lunches more difficult and more expensive, so to me that’s a family decision, not a personal decision. So I totally agree with your suggestion that it only makes sense IF the wife is happy about it.

    1. I totally agree with you about this. The only thing I wanted to add was that I think the reason pornography isn’t mentioned is that the whole point for many of the guys doing it is to try and help force them into developing the self-control they need to quit watching it. And I think that’s also the reason for the fact it’s 90 days, because of the whole “it takes 90 days to beat a compulsion” thing that people say.

      1. That was my thought too. I know two men who are close to me that have struggled with a porn addiction, and it’s not something you can just drop. They had to work on it for weeks, months, even years, there would be relapses…it’s a long term thing. 90 days isn’t gonna get rid of it, but it might help you develop the muscles you need to start the journey.

    2. Re porn – The list of ascetic practices only includes activities that aren’t wrong or sinful in and of themselves, but which the men are giving up in an effort to … whatever it is.

      But “no porn” does not go on a list with “no video games,” “no warm showers,” “no country music,” and “no burgers on Wednesday.” See?

      It’s kind of like refraining from domestic violence and avoiding Satanic rituals. Those aren’t examples of asceticism, they’re just sins.

      1. That’s a good point, though I’d still think there might be some mention of the issue, at least in terms of near occasions. (Or maybe that’s what the cold showers are about…?) But I still wonder whether obsessively cutting out every single possible type of innocent time-wasting recreation – such as watching football – is a great idea for guys who are trying to deal with a sinful and addictive activity that takes up a lot of their time. There’s a limit to how many holy hours and weight-lifting sessions a guy can do, after all. Also, willpower is a finite resource, at least in the short term – that’s a pretty well proven psychological fact, isn’t it? Trying to give up 15 things at once sounds like a really good way to crash and burn to me.

  9. Can’t get up in the middle of the night to tend to your new born baby with your wife? Mate you are seriously missing the point of your vocation if you are following something which tells you to do that. The interview was good, questions direct and I respect your conclusion Simcha..,but that point from the interviewee just threw me right off this programme. Why do we insist on complicating life more than it needs to be. No programme is the silver bullet to happiness. We as humans always seem to be looking for the quick silver bullet.

    1. I agree that not getting up to help your child is bad. I would recommend rereading that point. Both Simcha Fisher and the interviewee made it clear that they thought it was horrible. The interviewee said that “the idea of not getting up with your son at night hurts me, it pains me. ” He is very clear that a husband should “communicate what this entails with your spouse. If she’s not on board and it’s going to cause a rupture, don’t do Exodus!”

      1. But the fact that a programme would ask you to do that? Your vocation is first and foremost to your spouse and children. Anything asking you to forgo this is getting in the way of your obligation to your family life. Not a good programme. Find one which helps you serve each other MORE not less.

        1. I don’t remember my husband getting up with most of our kids (See 40 pounds, above) so that wouldn’t have been an issue for us. But a lot of those other things are. A lot of our communication – maybe even most during some very hectic periods – has been via texts and emails. Sure, a very small bit of it is necessary (e.g. pick up kid from practice at 8) , but most of it is just two friends and lovers communicating with each other during the day when they’re not completely beat. And both he and I now do a lot of communicating via text with our 3 oldest kids who don’t live at home right now. We can’t all of a sudden expect them to start talking on the phone, if that’s even allowed.

          I really don’t think my husband is unique in bonding with our kids over texts, movies, sports, video games, and sweet treats. To force loved ones to participate in Exodus 90 without first getting their blessing just seems cruel. Any one of the following by itself would be fine, but putting children (especially younger ones) through all of Dad’s wacky spiritual exercises for 3 months straight sends the message that Dad’s religion makes him a big no-fun jerk. “No, son, I can’t play the new Mario Kart/Just Dance/Civ game with you until after Easter!” “No, I can’t try that new cookie recipe you worked so hard on, hon. Maybe you could make me a batch after Easter?” “Nope. Can’t watch the playoffs/Super Bowl/College Football Championship with you guys. DVR it for me. I’ll catch the games after Easter.” “Sorry, can’t watch the new Superhero movie (that you kids have been waiting months to premiere) until after Easter.” “Can’t go to your game tonight. I’ve scheduled my regular, vigorous exercise.” “Sorry kids. It’s Gregorian Chant or NPR on the car radio until after Easter.” Yeah. I just think this whole thing is ill conceived for family men, unless of course the family was being raised pretty monastically prior. But even then, I find it very difficult to believe that decent fathers and husbands would abide completely by it. Maybe most dads are taking some things and leaving others. Or maybe Dad’s religion really does make him a big, no-fun jerk.

          1. I think the point really comes down to it having been written for guys entering seminary who need to see that that vocation is not “bachelorhood along with saying Mass sometimes.” When the founder left seminary, he wasn’t raising a family yet and had no idea (like most young men) what that really involves so he didn’t see all the pitfalls of adopting the same program wholesale. Sounds, from this interview, that he is seeing some of that and I hope they’ll rewrite their materials to really reflect the difference.

        2. I don’t think it’s the program asking men to do this – either they’re misunderstanding, or just using it as an excuse. My husband is leading a group this year, and I asked him about this point specifically. Granted, it might depend on the group leader, but he just rolled his eyes and said that was an incredibly stupid excuse not to help with family life. It speaks more to the man than the program, honestly.

          1. Lisa, I’d be curious to hear your experience – particularly in regards to participating in any of the verboten activities with you and the kids (if you have them). Especially in regards to unnecessary spending, video games and apps, texting, music and watching programs.

            1. Philly Area, I think the giving up of technology is going to benefit our family. So far, he’s been playing/reading to the kids more. Not that he didn’t do that before – he definitely did every night. But now if there’s a lull in activity, he seeks out the kids to be with them instead of checking email, etc. We don’t do a family movie night, though. If we did, I think I would be bummed about him missing it. Mostly I just turn something on when I fold laundry, and he has enough other work to do that he’ll just do that in another room. He doesn’t play video games, so that’s a non issue.
              Honestly, the biggest reason I didn’t want him to do it seems selfish – I’m expecting in a couple weeks, and I just want some evenings having a glass of wine with him once I deliver. And my birthday and two of our kids will take place during the 90 days. He says he’s just going to have some cake with the family, and some wine with me. Because this is totally optional, it’s not like he has to sin to make us happy. I know a single guy doing it who takes it very seriously, but who definitely thinks married men need to make some compromises due to their state in life and he says his group leader totally agrees with that.

          2. But if the program tells you to “get seven hours of sleep” and leaves it at that, or even if it just includes some notes about when it might be appropriate to relax certain disciplines, then that speaks to the program as well. For a father to opt out of something like the sleep requirement in favor of serving his family isn’t a situational loosening of an ideal discipline — it’s his actual authentic vocation. A program for lay men should integrate that fact into its design, not slap it on like a concession (unless, of course, it’s aimed exclusively at bachelors, which this isn’t).

            1. I kind of agree with this. I think changing it to, ‘don’t stay up late reading or whatever’ or ‘ try to be in bed by 10pm on a regular basis’ might be better.

            2. My husband finished it in November, around the time our youngest turned two. He continued to get up with her in the middle of the night (we take turns). It never occured to either of us Exodus 90 would mean him shirking responsibilities to check a “DO” or “DO NOT” off a list. We didnt’ even discuss it because….of course he still needs to still get up and help. That’s just life. To him it just meant going to bed by 9:30 so he could get up on time. I guess I am just surprised that men or couples would need this spelled out for them by the program but I guess I should not be.

              My husband was very focused on the idea that Exodus 90 was “his deal” and not something that needed to be my problem. His expressed “why” for doing the program was to get rid of attachments to things holding him back from being a better dad.

  10. Glad they are paying attention to the family-life impact! I do know of many families where the wives had the negative experience you described; I also know of a couple women who didn’t have any problem with it and it sounded like it went well for their husbands. But I do think the “straight out of seminary with no adaptation for dads” was a big problem (the “accountable to the small group’s discernment” thing especially, since the wife should be the person they’re accountable to and discerning with) and I’m glad Exodus is seeing that and trying to clarify and re-do where needed.

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