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December 18, 2007

a knight in the bus

The bus plows through the industrial area of town where I work and scoops up the humanity that waits on muddy remnants of snowdrifts on curbs. On this route, I avoid the back of the bus. My body doesn't go there, and my eyes rarely shift that way. Smoky, greasy, imagination paints pictures of the men who sit back there, since I rarely venture past the back doors of the bus. But today the homeward-bound bus was full, and the tide of new passengers at stop two or three sent me shuffling into the back of the bus...the area I imagine to be dirty. But to my surprise, I was only there a few moments when the man sitting in front of me gave me his slippery orange seat. I hardly looked at him, either, and some of the men around me were similar to my imaginings, but in the one man's kind gesture I saw a gentleman. Yes, even in the back of the bus.

Some mornings the bus seats are like precious treasures. There are days when, before I even maneuver through the slush and smoke of the terminal and pull out my bus pass, most of the seats are taken. Last week, on a full-bus morning, another gentleman gave me preference when a seat opened. Indeed, another gentleman, in the front of the bus.

In general, I really appreciate chivalry. It reinforces that yes, ladies are different than men, and that that is significant. It seems to show appreciation and respect and doesn't have to have romantic overtones. There might be times when I think a man deserves to sit more than I do, but it is still nice to be offered the seat first. Especially with a stranger, I might take the seat he offers if only to encourage this last shard of gender distinction in our culture.

Years ago I heard that some feminists hate to have doors opened for them. With that in mind, when a boy opens a door for me, or even for a group of people, I often try to say thank you, just to show that it is appreciated. There are times where I have balked at chivalry because I felt that to accept someone's offer was to indicate a particular interest in that person, but how nice it is when a man knows to watch out for the ladies around him (in purity, like a brother). Do boys realize what a nice gesture it is to open a car door for a girl? I don't think I did until one day I almost unconsciously expected it, and it didn't happen.

Ultimately, appropriate gender behaviour must be rooted in Scripture, or we have no authoritative model. If I speak not of Christ's calling, then what I say is merely suggestion. In our cultures and subcultures the expectations on men vary greatly. What may be considered nice here (ie, helping a girl with her coat or chair) might not have be taught in another area. The one act of helping with a car door is nice, in our culture, but it isn't essential. The big picture of gender roles in Scripture is much more vital.

I believe that it was Elizabeth Elliot that said something to this effect: when men are manly, woman become more womanly, and so it goes from there, as each gender complements the other. What a beautiful picture of the divine balance between the sexes. Elliot says, "It was God who made us different, and He did it on purpose.... God created male and female, the male to call forth, to lead, initiate and rule, and the female to respond, follow, adapt, submit...the physical structure of the female would tell us that woman was made to receive, to bear, to be acted upon, to complement, to nourish." (Let Me Be a Woman, p59) Recently someone commented to me how blessed we are to have the Bible to define gender roles for us. Indeed, we are.