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.”