Sunday, October 30, 2005

Two posts today. Wrote them both over the weekend, so be sure to scroll down at some point.

The point of this post is to define “chivalry,” or at least to discuss what I mean when I use that word. The idea of chivalry first came into my head in middle school, when I first discovered that girls are different – and wonderful. Shortly after this discovery came the discovery that most of my sex are complete boors when it comes to women. Now mind you, this is not to say that I am a knight and a gentleman when it comes to women. But you have to understand that I saw how most guys treated girls in middle school, and I was appalled because it did not seem very Christian.

At this time the Song of the Lioness was much on my heart, and particularly the bits about what it means to be a noble. In Tortall, the code of chivalry states that there is no job too mean for a true noble. If you wear the shield of a knight, then young and old, rich and poor may look to you for aid, and you cannot deny them. You protect the weak and the poor. You rule justly and well; you are the champion of the people of your fief. Long before Tamora Pierce wrote the Protector of the Small quartet, I heard stories about Alanna the Lioness and said in my heart, “I want to be like that. I will be like that.” It was the first time that I had read a story about Jesus (of course Tamora Pierce is not writing about Jesus, but that is what I recognized in the Song) and said, “I want to be like that.”

Because of this confluence of events the concept of chivalry has forever borne in my mind the imprint of male-female relations. I suspect that is proper – most of the stories about God’s chivalry are also stories about God’s marriage, after all. So let me define Natalian chivalry in terms of what I think we should demand of our men when they start to pursue a woman. I think you could probably break that down into three categories: a man should be wise, a man should be honorable, and a man should be valorous.

A man should be wise. Does he see things clearly, and see himself accurately? Does he fear the Lord? (Well if he does – but as Solomon says the fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom.) Does he know the Lord, and does the Lord know him? Does he delight in obedience? Can he see clearly in spite of his feelings? Is his counsel insightful, getting to the heart of the matter? Is he the sort of man whose advice you could take even if you cannot see the sense in it, because you know from experience that his counsel is not only insightful but also reliable and trustworthy? Do you trust not only the results of his counsel but also the process? Does he guard his own heart?

A man should be honorable. Are his principles sound, the sort of principles in which you would want your children to be instructed? Does he hold them with conviction but also with honesty and openness? Does he reject falsehood firmly and lovingly without patronizing or compromising? When he speaks, does he speak truth? Does he do what he says he will? Are his words and his deeds consistent, two parts of one communication? Does he value himself neither more nor less than God values him? Does he value other people as God sees them? Does he consider the integrity of a woman’s heart more important than getting access to it? Does he never take access to a woman’s heart lightly? Does sin pain him? Is he self-controlled? Does he view you as a partner and a wingman, and not as an objective or a goddess or a squire?

A man should be valorous. Does he fight for other people as God fights for them? Is he growing in the Lord? Does he help other people grow? Does he long to confront sin in himself and in others? Does he act out of love, and not just out of zeal? Is he wild and fierce but tender? Is he powerful but humble? Is he slow to anger but quick to forgive? Is he unafraid of his girlfriend’s faults and wounds (or those of her family)? Does he long to help heal them? Does he recognize that however hard he strives, it is God that gives the increase – and God that gives the victory? Does he strive with everything in him all the same? Does he give of his time and his talents? Does he value providing for his family? Does he love to live in your world? Does he love to make your heart soar – or to make your heart flutter? Does he work at it?

None of this is meant to imply that chivalry is inherently masculine, but I am not so certain what its feminine version looks like. I have some feeling that it has to do with magnificence, though. When I think of the Caryatid or the Fiancée (I know she’s married now, but I can’t very well call her the Wife) or Mayxm or Nari or Blue Rose or my sister or mother, there is something … well, magnificent about them. Like Athena Glaukopis. Like a horse in its beauty and strength. I don’t know if I can define it any more precisely than that yet.

I like to toss around words like “honor” and “chivalry,” and occasionally this causes me some concern. God does not seem especially concerned in the Bible with either honor or chivalry – of course when he wrote, “chivalry” would have been a nonsensical word, but the basic idea existed, I think. After all, samurai were “chivalrous” (as long as you aren’t a medievalist, anyway); every culture has had their man-at-arms (usually mounted) whom they hold up as paragons of virtue. The Greek chariot-mounted herôs and hoplite militiaman; the Roman politician-cavalryman and grizzled centurion; the Persian gentleman archer and aristocratic cavalier; the Hebrew judge and “mighty man of valor” – these are chivalrous figures (or anyway their respective cultures thought they should be) and that would have been familiar to God’s audiences. If God wanted to talk about honor, he had the tools. So why didn’t he? Of course he did a little – Scripture doesn’t record the names of David’s mighty men for nothing – but mostly he just doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.

As troubling as it is to me to care too much about honor and chivalry, the prospect of an honorless (or honor-neutral) Christianity is equally troubling. Those words are written on my heart in the deep place, the same place that knows God loves me or God called me to Stanford. Have they infiltrated the inner room of my heart by mistake? I have a hard time believing that. God may not spend a lot of verbage telling us to be honorable or chivalrous, but he spends quite a lot of verbage talking about how he is honorable and chivalrous. I just can’t believe that he didn’t make us in that part of his image too, or that he spent all that time talking about his own chivalry without saying, “Go and do likewise.”

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Something that John Eldredge says in Wild at Heart has always sort of bugged me. He claims that the church has drilled Jeremiah 17:9 into our heads, and we go around convinced that our heart is deceitfully wicked. So far I agree with him. He goes on to say, read the rest of the book, arguing that our heart was wicked but now is good – that God has given us hearts of flesh for hearts of stone and written his law on our hearts (the hearts of believers, that is), and our heart is good.

That is sort of an uncomfortable thing to hear. Partially it’s uncomfortable because I am keenly aware of the vast gulf between what I do (let alone what goes on inside me) and what is good. I think most honest people will agree with me, unless they’ve compromised their definition of good. But as I was reminded the other day talking to Duchess about my buddy icon (well, talking to her cousin while she looked on), I am Jade Falcon. I will not forget where I come from or where I am going and there can be no compromise. Conquer honorably or die trying. Mostly, though, it’s uncomfortable to hear that my heart is good because I really have bought into the idea that it’s just not. I might even have gone so far as to say that was one of the tenets of my Christianity – that no human heart is good. That “I am a sinner in need of grace,” as Vonsus might say, is the best anybody will ever say for me.

Now of course, that’s not such a bad thing to have said about me. But I think I might have figured out what Eldredge is getting at. First, we need to distinguish between what goes on inside of us and our heart. The heart, as Eldredge uses the term (and I think this is the Biblical understanding, too, to the extent that “heart” is a term of art in Scripture), is more than just what goes on inside you – your thoughts and feelings and dreams. It’s the real you, the you whose name is on the white stone that God will give you at the end of the world. It is the “me” that Paul distinguishes from “my sin” in Romans.

But isn’t that precisely what is wicked? Isn’t it true (again as Vonsus might say) that my heart has done things that my hands haven’t gotten around to yet? I’m no longer sure it is. Here is what hit me the other day: God calls me righteous. Hitherto I have generally believed that imputed righteousness was a sort of legal fiction. The picture in my head was something like this: God looks at me and goes, “Ew, gross” and then Jesus steps in and says, “Dad, this one’s with me,” and God says, “Ok, I’ll pretend that he’s righteous even though he’s not” (emphasis added).

Is that what God does? Is God the God of legal fictions? Or is it more like Eldredge says, that inside me there are two people, so to speak: the real me, and the traitor. In other words, the new man and the old man, my true heart and my “flesh.” To the extent that we conflate those two people in everyday conversation, “I” am still a sinner in need of grace – that is, “I” am a person who sins, and I am need of grace (of course I think I would need grace even if I was not a sinner. It is not moral effort that my true heart feeds on, nor moral actions, but the life of God communicated to it without condition). But my heart is good.

I am not entirely sure what it means for my heart to be good. But I know one consequence: it keeps me in the fight. What is the use of screaming, “Conquer honorably or die trying” if my heart is inherently dishonorable? Who can put their faith in a God whose best effort is a legal fiction? The Gospel, after all, is the power of God to save. Is God’s power a mere legal fiction, simply a change in viewpoint? Or is it power?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Things that have been good for my heart lately:

Jammix last Friday. Thanks to Wendy, the TD, Anachoron, and someone I don't have a blogname for yet for some very good polkas, redowas, and pivots, and to Blue Rose for a very good waltz. Many other good dances too - and a very good walk home. The connection between wildness and control has been much on my mind lately. I think that redowa in polka time has become my favorite metaphor for that subject.

Seeing My Fair Lady with Duchess and her cousin. I don't know if I appreciated that show properly the first time I saw it. With subsequent viewings, I have come to really like the way Eliza and Henry Higgins are written. I was struck, this last time, by how much these two characters are examples of wounded femininity and wounded masculinity. Here is what I thought of when I saw it this last time. Eldredge says (and I agree) that every man is haunted by this question: Do I have what it takes? Can I come through when it counts? The counterpart question that he says every woman is haunted (and I agree with this, too) is this: Will you pursue me? Do you delight in me? Will you fight for me? Too often - indeed, in the overwhelming majority of cases - men and women have that question answered for them when they are little, and the answer is no. This is what I saw in My Fair Lady this last time. Henry Higgins is a poser who is afraid of women (indeed, of friends) because he doesn't think he can come through for them when it counts - he doesn't even know how to come through for a woman. Eliza Doolittle has been told all her life that she's on her own, that nobody is ever going to fight for her because she's gutter trash. Here's what I love about the movie: the way these two poor people begin to get their wounds healed. Freddie doesn't get the girl. There's nothing romantic between Henry and Eliza. But her femininity nevertheless inspires him to pick up his weapons and begin to fight, and she begins to believe in delightfulness, all in a wonderfully un-Hollywood non-romantic way. "That is not love, perhaps. But it is real."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

In Wild at Heart John Eldredge suggests that there is something about the masculine heart that can only be found in the wilds. Now, I'm not exactly sure how literally he means that, but I've found for myself that what he says about wildness is true. Which is why I love to dance.

Dance has meant many things to me while I've been at Stanford, and I begin to suspect that it will become the Testimony of the latter half of my Stanford career - the Great Fact; the single most important reason, in the narrative of God's work in my life at this school, why I had to come to Stanford and couldn't go anywhere else. Dance has meant the redemption of my friendship with Blue Rose; it has meant chivalry; it has meant healing of my geek's heart; it has meant romance.

Now it means wildness. Whether I'm dancing at Friday Night Waltz with Duchess and friends I don't have blognames for, on Thursday nights with other friends I don't have blognames for, or at Jammix with lots of friends I do have blognames for, there is something wild, something unfettered and free, about the experience of dance. Not romantic. Pre-romantic.

A year or two ago I discovered that God met with me in the aftermath of a dance, alone in the cold and the moon and the stars. I begin to suspect why. Since he first called to Adam our God has loved to meet with people in the wilds. And even in the Silicon Valley, clearly he still does.