Forgive me as I step outside my apologetics “box” for a minute and post my thoughts on one aspect of what it means to be a man. Maybe this post isn’t all that removed from my usual efforts to make a case for the Christian worldview, particularly with all the recent talk in the blogosphere related to the egalitarian / complementarian debate. I do have some observations related to “Christian masculinity”, and these ideas came to mind recently in a conversation with my son.
It’s probably no surprise that so much literature has been devoted to the fairy tale relationship between princes and princesses. As my daughters were growing up, we watched many Disney movies featuring a princess of one nature or another. In all of these tales, a prince rescued the princess, and most of these princes had to overcome some type of “dragon”. There is a universal need, it seems, to locate and identify ourselves within this narrative. We are either princes or princesses, and all of us have an innate need to rescue or be rescued. This classic form of storytelling reflects our human identity and condition. There is much we can learn from studying its nuances.
I am an older guy with thirty-three years of experience as a would-be dragon slayer (I met my wife Susie in 1979). I’ve tried to be very thoughtful about my approach to my marriage; I’ve learned a few things about the nature of princes in my own meager attempt to be a good one. My chief observation is this: there’s more to being a dragon slayer than simply slaying dragons. In fact, the dragon slaying part is really not what ought to define or motivate us as princes. We are dragon slayers not because we can kill the dragon, but because we have a princess to rescue. It’s our relationship to this princess that truly defines us, and at the end of the day, we can only call ourselves successful if our princesses know that they were the focus of our efforts. Our princesses must know that they were important enough to be saved and that we, as their dragon slayers, were committed to that effort.
I’ve known a lot of police officers over the years. They were all excellent dragon slayers, but not all of them were excellent men or husbands. In fact, it seemed like many of them had been through more than their fair share of marriages and struggled deeply in their personal relationships. Some of them believed that their ability to slay the dragon was all that was necessary to define themselves as good men. They were good cops, tough and courageous, but seldom thought about what made them valuable to their wives. Dragon slaying was enough at first, but along the way they lost their focus and desire to lay down everything to save their princesses. They continued to be tough and courageous in one aspect of their lives but forgot to be tender and sacrificial in the most important area of their lives. Without a princess to save, none of us can truly call ourselves dragon slayers.
Christian complementarianism maintains that God created men and women with the same essential (innate) dignity and personhood, but with different and complementary functions within their marital and relational settings and within the setting of God’s family (the Church). Some find this view troubling and sexist (especially when it comes to church leadership). But the Christian call to husbands and wives is the same. It is to “submit to one another” (Ephesians 5:21). This looks a bit different for each of us as, depending on whether we are a husband or a wife. Some of my Christian brothers are fond of focusing primarily on those portions of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that deals with a wife’s submission to her husband, but the important call for all of us as dragon slayers is found in Ephesians 5:25…
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”
Jesus was foremost among dragon slayers, conquering sin and saving all of us from a life of regret and an eternity of separation. As men, we find our fullest fulfillment when we identify ourselves as Christ followers: as dragon slayers and heroes. This involves more than having a dragon to slay. It involves having a princess to save. It’s not just about our professional success, our physical prowess, or our machismo and confidence. It’s about understanding the importance of sacrifice, humility and service. It’s about moving beyond the dragon and placing someone else’s needs, hopes, desires and ambitions ahead of our own. Princes become true dragon slayers when they have a princess to save.