As the movie Gladiator builds momentum, General Maximus finds himself in the middle of the Roman Colosseum surrounded by a group of strangers armed with swords and shields, anxiously awaiting their intended slaughter. Despite insurmountable odds, he rallies them:
“You can help me. Whatever comes out of these gates, we’ve got a better chance of survival if we work together. Do you understand? If we stay together we survive.”
This is one of my favorite movie moments. There’s something about this leader, marshalling unity in the face of certain death that gives me a chill every time I watch it.
I felt a similar tingling during the movie 300, when King Leonidas explains the power of the Spartan phalanx formation to Ephialtes:
“We fight as a single, impenetrable unit. That is the source of our strength. Each Spartan protects the man to his left from thigh to neck with his shield.”
The life-or-death reciprocity and interdependence calls to a deep part of me. But the sensation is not limited to violent conflict. I experience it almost any time I witness life-altering unity.
For example, the pep-talk given by Coach Brooks in the movie Miracle is a great example (and a timely nod to Sochi):
“Great moments… are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can!”
The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team went on to victory over a seemingly invincible Russian squad. It’s one of the greatest moments in athletic history, and Miracle captures it brilliantly and never fails to inspire a sense of awe.
These examples point to the fact that people long for deep, reliable, reciprocal unity strong enough to weather even the most intense challenges. I think women recognize this need for depth; but, I find that men often do not, which is why Steve and I describe it as the epidemic that most men don’t realize they are facing!
But more needs to be said about the longing itself. Clarification is required because our culture misrepresents it in two important ways: the nature of the longing and the availability of fulfillment.
Intimacy and sexuality are not the same thing!
First, our culture misrepresents the nature of this longing.
Why? Because our culture sexualizes e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g…
It’s the most over-sexualized culture in all of human history. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that we are unable to understand intimacy absent sexuality. As a result, we preclude ourselves from experiencing many of the greatest relationships of our lives.
Let me say this emphatically: There is nothing sexual about armor-bearing friendships.
This point must be well recognized because most armor-bearing friendships are same-sex. In fact, this is demonstrated consistently throughout scripture: Moses and Aaron, Jonathan and David, Ruth and Naomi, Paul and Timothy, etc. Wherever there is presented a picture of God’s heart for friendship, it’s between two men or two women.
Some readers may be starting to feel uncomfortable. However, despite our cultural confusion and rampant sexual exploitation, intimacy and commitment need not implicate our sexuality.
Here’s an example:
In 2 Samuel 1:25-26, David says of Jonathan, “Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” This passage is often cited in support of homosexuality, but the context demonstrates such an interpretation to be incorrect. The original text does not connote passion. Instead, it speaks of brotherhood. Further, David is eulogizing Jonathan and his language implies a commitment unto death. David is clearly describing a profound depth of connection and ultimate commitment – and this is the nature of true, armor-bearing friendship.
You can embrace armor bearing today and everyday!
Second, our culture misrepresents the availability of fulfillment of this longing.
Why? Because our culture tells us that armor bearing is only for limited periods of time or specific groups of people, i.e., that it’s ‘event-driven’ or ‘inaccessible.’ Neither is true.
Many of our cultural notions of oneness or unity capture the essence of armor bearing. We watch as this longing is fulfilled in movie after movie, such as those mentioned above. But none of these representations help us understand that armor bearing is there for us every day.
When we see people unite to battle against some powerful foe, whether another person, an organization, a tragedy or natural disaster, or even in pursuit of some worthy goal, we sense that this kind of unity is ‘event-driven.’ In other words, if you’re not engaged in a battle, you’re not going to experience it.
Likewise, when we see people who are intrinsically connected to a closely-knit group such as an athletic team, fraternity or sorority, or military unit, we sense that this kind of unity is ‘inaccessible.’ If you’re not a part of a special, recognized group, you can’t experience it.
However, in reality, the kind of committed, reciprocal, reliable, life-shaping, unity we see displayed in the circumstances described above – armor bearing – is not reserved for a select few who are in the battle or who make the team. It’s for everyone, including you – a readily accessible lifestyle anyone can adopt by simply learning to live more intentionally.
In other words, the type of friendship we’re discussing is waiting to be cultivated, right now, today.
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on ‘armor bearing friendship‘ – the subject of an upcoming book by Jer Monson and Steve Gerali. Your thoughts will help us shape the book, so be a part of the conversation in the comments below. You can also subscribe to stay connected to new posts on armor bearing. When you do, you can download a FREE copy of Jer’s ebook, 12 Ways to Maximize Your Next Twelve!
Leave a Comment: Do you struggle with non-sexual intimacy? Do you understand it as “event-driven” or “inaccessible?”