Tuesday, March 21, 2006

So I was going to write a long game post about Star Wars: Empire at War, but I lost most of the post so if you want to know what I think about the game you can ask me. And if I had gotten to this earlier I might have posted something about the last Jammix, where I had some pretty fantastic redowas in and around the Kerry sets and Duchess (I still don't like that blogname for her, but it'll do for now) and I worked out of a fun new handhold.

Instead I'd like to talk about something else. Blue Rose and her Bible study are apparently discussing a John Piper article on gender called "A Vision of Biblical Complementarity," which I won't link to because I never did get around to navigating my Stanford web space, but which I think is well worth reading if you're curious about Christian gender roles. I'm not sure I agree with everything in it, but I agree with a lot of it, and I think it's worth reading.

Anyway, one of the things he claims about mature masculinity is that it will seek to provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to his differing relationships with them ((that is, will want to, though circumstances may prevent it from doing so at any given time). I thought that was well said, and not just because it's the sort of thing I wish I had said. Look at the men in the Bible who are held up as examples. How many of them failed the women in their lives? It is a true fact that masculinity oftentimes fails femininity; it is also the true nature of masculinity to come through when it counts, by grace through faith. But that wasn't what got me thinking.

"Appropriate circumstances." I'll be the first to tell you that a man has got to find it in his heart to choose a woman. You've got to dive into her heart, her world - that's what romance is. But that's the extreme, the easy case. A man's duties with his woman are relatively straightforward to articulate, if not at all straightforward to discharge. And this choosing business is, perhaps, something which the Christian teaching of my generation has on balance neglected, so it's good there are people talking about it and I think it's worth talking about.

But of course there is more to it than that. One of my favorite Honor Harrington quotes is addressed to a man who watched Honor's ship be taken by the enemy after she ordered him to escort his convoy away from the battle. Distraught over abandoning his commanding officer - even under direct orders, and even to preserve the freighters under his escort - Captain Greentree is explaining the action to Vice Admiral Sorbanne:

"But I could have tried." The anguished whisper was so faint Sorbanne doubted Greentree even realized he'd spoken aloud, but she decided to pretend the words had been meant for her.

"Of course you could have tried," she said so sharply that he looked up in surprise. "People can
always try, Captain, but sometimes a naval officer has to know when not to try. When trying is the easy way out for her, or her reputation, or her conscience, but only at the cost of failing in her duty. I'm certain any number of idiots who weren't there are going to tell you you should have rushed in to rescue Lady Harrington no matter what she'd ordered you to do. No doubt you could have saved yourself all the pain those accusations are going to cause you if you had tried. But you and I both know, however much it hurts to admit it, that it would have been the wrong decision."

Now of course Honor Harrington isn't Scripture, but Sorbanne has her finger on something here. For all men with a fix-it complex (which may very well be all men) there is a strong temptation to choose simply because we think it will help. Because a woman's heart needs to be chosen, and we immediately leap to the conclusion that we should be the one to choose it. That is why choosing an attractive, wounded heart is so much easier than not choosing it. But even John Eldredge will tell you, "[A] warrior is cunning. He knows when to fight and when to run." There are times - both more and less frequent than I would like - when masculinity must know not to choose a woman. I suppose, our race being what it is, that there are probably always going to be times when a man must not choose a woman. But it seems to me that the times are much greater outside of marriage. So what the Piper article got me asking was this: how do I know when to choose and when not to choose my secretary? My classmate? My boss? My friend? My girlfriend? The circumstances are all different, and presumably they require different answers.

The usual Scripture-of-first-resort for these kinds of questions, I think, is Prov. 4:23: "Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." Well, fair enough. What's that mean? The usual answer is something along the lines of "don't get your heart entangled with X," where X is usually somehow related to gender relations. We aren't precisely making that up: as Solomon says, "do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases" (Song 2:7, inter alia). But what does that mean? "Awaken?" "Love?" What are the boundaries of those concepts?

When we speak of guarding hearts, or awakening love, we don't usually mean "love" in the deep sense of deliberate and irrevocable choosing the good and life and personhood of a spouse. If we did, this concept would have a very narrow application. But if we choose the broader application (which I think is the correct one) difficult questions arise. Did I "awaken" "love" for Thea before it pleased? What about Princess? Think of all those movie dates and Citiwalk dates ... of a certainty I initiated those because I intended to enjoy the company of my Dragon Girls, and I knew full well that they would, temporarily at least, exacerbate my crushes upon them. Crushes that I had no intention of ever acting upon - and I am firmly convinced that not acting on the feelings I had for Thea and Princess is an example of a time not to try, not to choose. Having thus decided in advance I would not attempt anything romantic with my dear friends, did I fail to guard my heart by deliberately placing myself in situations that would make me attracted to them? Or what about Nala? Or any number of Stanford-era friendships that I will decline to enumerate for the sake of modesty?

I have historically held that when one has feelings for a friend, the responsible thing to do is to ignore those feelings (I mean as influences, not as data) for decision-making purposes and enjoy them otherwise (that is, as opposed to feeling guilty and angst-ridden about the fact you have feelings which you very well may not intend to act upon). But of course that will inevitably result in placing oneself in situations where one's feelings may be increased - indeed, as even a first-year psych course will teach us, we may well be suspicious that any contact with the object of our affections will increase them. One becomes fond of a person by spending time with them, after all. But surely we do not mean that a man is to periodically cut himself off from all contact with his female friends for the sake of not awakening love, or guarding his heart - and surely we do not mean that a man is to have no female friends. I don't know enough Hebrew to check, but I find it hard to believe that the case can be made that only a man's wife (or female relations) is to partake of the role of ezer kenegdo. Surely we are created male and female for more than the familial context. And in our various contexts, in which we are created male and female, surely a mature man will seek to provide for and protect his counterparts in ways that are appropriate to each context. Which will mean guarding their hearts, as well as guarding his own.

But how is one to do so? There is so much to learn.


Oswell55 said...

An interesting, and important, question: To a) withdraw from female contact to avoid exacerbating ill-fated emotions, or b) to deal with ill-fated emotions some other way.

I'm sure with time and thought I could justify my answer scripturally, but my instinct says the correct course must be b). To further your Honor analogy: To choose a) is the equivalent to routinely avoiding engagement. That must be the exception, not the rule. To choose b) is engage, but be faced from time-to-time with the tough decisions on when to advance, when to withdraw, when and how to obey orders, suggestions, and whose?

Yes, a) is the easy way out. Too easy, and self-defeating for fulfilling the Master's destiny for you. b) sounds more like real life to me ... the case-by-case application of absolute principals, which often result in different actions for similar yet different situations.

Casey said...

The constant comparison of gender relations to warfare makes me slightly uncomfortable, but I can't tell whether or not that has any basis in reality. Regardless, the analogy seems to hold. I really like your philosophy about what to do when you have feelings for a friend.

I think that this is a difficult question, and one that probably needs to be answered, by the Lord, on a case-by-case basis. Wouldn't you agree, George? :D

tpiglette said...

"One becomes fond of a person by spending time with them, after all. But surely we do not mean that a man is to periodically cut himself off from all contact with his female friends for the sake of not awakening love, or guarding his heart - and surely we do not mean that a man is to have no female friends."

So that's certainly not the only alternative, right? You seemed to jump from "having feelings for a friend [singular]" somehow all the way to "cutting himself off from all female friends." Surely there's the option of applying it moderately to specific situations that may warrant it.

I agree that (a) doesn't seem to be the right approach, considering that it doesn't really involve a relational God is one's discernment. However, I think it's also important to note that using a (b) approach might sometimes involve an (a)-type response for a season of time -- that is, just because it's possible to overdo (a) doesn't mean that (a) isn't sometimes appropriate.

Natalie said...

I agree about that, but I think what I find myself most confused about these days is what my guideposts for (b) ought to be. It's all very well to talk about applying Godly principles on a case-by-case basis, but whenever we apply principles or seeking the Lord's discernment we need to be sure we're doing so in a way that is faithful to our core text, and the core text sometimes seems frustratingly impenetrable to me lately.