My two boys are little cups brimming with physicality. Most days our house looks like a war zone of plastic weapons and combat toys. There are lightsabers, Nerf guns, bows, and arrows, plastic superheroes, and plenty of battle cries. When we’re reading a novel like The Horse and His Boy, which we just finished, you can see my boys sit up straighter, pay a little more attention, when the battle scene begins. At the risk of generalizing, it’s in their DNA, this desire for courage, justice, and high-stakes conflict. They love to battle.
But on days like the kind we’ve seen far too many of this past week, I confess, I’m afraid of aggression, and our current culture which is fraught with it. Aggression is instinctive. It’s selfish and acquisitive. And it’s easy. But look what havoc gets wreaked worldwide by naked aggression. Our films involve avenging and destroying, and our rhetoric is combative. Enemies are proclaimed, and outrage is the flavor of the day on social media. You’re not really communicating unless your remarks are full of venom, or at least point a finger in ire at the Other, whoever that is. And round and round it goes, this cycle of combat.
So, no, I’m not a fan of aggression. And yet, I want my boys to grow to embrace their identity as the men they were created to be. But I think there’s something fundamentally flawed with equating masculinity with aggression. Being a man does not mean being dominant, running roughshod over the desires of the weaker, taking what they feel they’re entitled to, shoving finger-pointing, or brute force conquest.
So what is it? Well, this isn’t one of those “I’ve found the answers”-type posts. But, in the New Testament, the apostle Peter paints a helpful vision of holy masculinity. He compels husbands to treat their wives “as a delicate vessel,” with nurture and care.
I love that little simile. It’s too brief to be a complete set of instructions but it’s a start. It leads to actions like protecting the innocent, standing up for the needs of the weak, sacrificing one’s self for a noble cause, promoting order, cultivating a tender heart, and most of all, drawing close to the heart of God, who revealed himself in the form of a man named Jesus who wept at the death of a close friend, yet drove out of the temple by force those fraudulent sellers, and ultimately allowed himself to be murdered for the sake of the world’s souls. Not weak, but might with measure.
C.S. Lewis found inspiration for holy masculinity in the chivalric ideal of Medieval knights: “The knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped-off limbs; he is also a demure, almost a maidenlike, guest in hall, a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth.”
The command in John goes: “This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends,” This, and not aggression, is how I pray my sons grow. I pray Grace that my life’s example would model these traits, and more Grace on those occasions when doesn’t. But, even more, I pray that the stories I tell, the stories that we all tell with our lives, would be full of the order, justice, and dignity which embody a vision of the coming Kingdom, where love will reign long after the last tear has fallen.