What is Courage?

This morning, my not-yet-three-year-old son went completely underwater *on purpose* for the first time. After two weeks of IMG_0955swimming lessons and countless “tries” that included only dipping down to mid-ear, he agreed with his swim teacher that on the last day of lessons, he’d do it. That day was today, and he spent five minutes with me trying. He kept getting a little deeper and a little deeper, and then he finally did it! Do you know what I said to him when he came back up? “That was SO brave!”

But was it? Based on a lot of public opinions I’ve seen on the topic of bravery over the last few months, I’m wondering if I may have used the wrong word.  Not all people who do scary-to-them things are recognized as brave. So, what exactly is bravery? How do we define courage, and why?

I think so many Christians — not wrongly — wrap up their definitions of courage and bravery with a sense of obedience to God, regardless of the cost. Trusting that God will fight for you; honoring Him when everyone else opposes you. This is very Biblical. The first verse I thought of regarding courage was “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and very courageous. Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 — probably a conglomeration of different versions). And there are very many others along the same lines. It has become natural to many of us to interpret courage from a spiritual standpoint, but does that therefore exclude people who don’t believe the same as us? Or align with our morals and values? If what they stand for is not Biblical, can they ever be truly brave in actually standing for it?

Publicly changing your gender doesn’t quite seem to fit the Conservative Christian mold, and generally, Conservative Christians (including famous, leader-types) are being awfully snippy and rude about how some are recognizing this act as an act of bravery. But is that really fair? (Or loving?)

19006598825_f67d5615ec_oCaitlyn Jenner is being compared to soldiers, police, firefighters, etc., as though their courageous acts negate hers. True, the former Olympian didn’t put her life on the line for anyone else. Or did she?

Have you noticed how she’s been vilified, ridiculed, mocked, and virtually spat upon since she (while still a “he”) went public in an interview with Diane Sawyer? She knew that would happen, yet she still did it. She intentionally went public. Was it for her own publicity? Maybe a little bit; she is a celebrity after all. But did you listen to her speech after receiving the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage? I did — you can watch it on YouTube. Here are some of the things she had to say:

  • People are dying. Literally — today, yesterday, tomorrow. People are killing themselves and being killed because of gender identity issues. They’re being bullied, harassed, abused. Every day. Someone needs to help.
  • With the spotlight comes responsibility. Speaking to a room full of athletes and celebrities, she reminded them that how they conduct themselves matters.
  • Accept people. People are going to be different. Accept them anyway.
  • Trans people deserve respect. And the inevitable byproduct of respecting them is having compassion for them.

Really great, Biblical points, by the way. MY point is that she’s not doing it just for herself. Caitlyn Jenner put herself out there intending to help other people. Regardless of whether we agree with her beliefs, values, or methods, the fact remains that she is willfully positioning herself to be ripped apart by Christians in an effort to help the lost, the confused, the hurting, the scared — the ones we’re tragically not that great at loving — in a way she thinks will give them hope. Knowing the inevitable backlash, she still moved forward with others’ pain as a major motivator.

Isn’t that ironic? What love she’s showing, and what judgment and ugliness we’re throwing back at her.

I would definitely call her courageous.


8 thoughts on “What is Courage?

  1. With all respect, I must ask how it is loving to endorse rebellion? How is it helpful to endorse idolatry of self? How is it kind to promote that which clearly harms?

    Love is patient; love is kind.
    Love does not envy; it is not boastful; it is not conceited; does not act improperly; is not selfish; is not provoked; does not keep a record of wrongs; finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
    1 Corinthians 13:4-7

    Please help me understand, my friend, how Jenner’s actions fulfill any of the above. I really do not understand, and I ask this with respect.

    • I love your question! Let me clarify my thinking.

      First of all, I’m less concerned with how Biblical Jenner’s actions are than I am with Christians’. Her rebellion, idolatry, and harmful actions should not be endorsed by us, but neither should we viciously tear her to shreds. That is not what Christ does. That is not how Christ loves. Did the ESPY Awards celebrate her? Sure — but I don’t see any reason for us as Christians to be up in arms about it. Should we actually expect a secular organization or a secular society to think Biblically?

      Instead, I’m speaking about OUR showing respect and love. I’m concerned with how freely and how harshly Christians are speaking out against her by name, insulting her, mocking her, and demonizing her. “With it [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in God’s image. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:9-10, emphasis mine). We Christians, as a whole, are not showing love, and I believe that’s an offense to God. It is not patient or kind to say the things that are being said. It’s definitely showing envy of the attention she’s getting, though, and it boasts about how foolish, stupid, and evil she must be for what she’s done. Our response is conceited, improper, and clearly showing that we’re easily provoked by the actions of outsiders. I could go on with the passage you shared, but I think it’s obvious. That was my point about love — OUR lack of it.

      Is HER love Biblical? I doubt you could make a solid argument for that, and I’m not trying to. But it’s better than what we’ve been showing. And fully knowing we’d act the way we are acting, she stepped up and did something that she believed in anyway, at least in part to help others who are suicidal, bullied, terrified. That’s courageous, even if it’s not Biblical. Is she right? No. But should we expect her to be? No. She’s deceived. She’s working with what she’s got. While I’m not saying she’s not responsible for her rebellion, I am saying that we should have compassion for people who don’t have the Holy Spirit within them. She’s just one example of who we all are without Christ — “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures” (Titus 3:3); “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). She’s blinded unless and until God opens her eyes and her heart. I should expect Christians to be a little more loving, a little more compassionate, a little more patient with the lost, since we all were at one time. All we’re doing is shoving her farther away from the Savior who so dearly loves her.

      • Thank you for clarifying yourself. In all honesty, your reply to my question explains your stance more clearly than your original post does. Your original post, honestly, reads more like it’s an endorsement of what Jenner did than your response to my question does. When you say that “she” has been helpful for “the lost, the confused, the hurting, the scared,” that speaks of endorsing “her” actions.

        In truth, what Jenner has done is actually promote transgender surgery, which studies have shown increases the occurrence of depression and suicide in post-operative transgender people. What Jenner has done is further endanger those who are dealing with their gender identity.

        I just can’t get on board with the idea that what Jenner has done is courageous.

        In this vein of thought, we could say that abortionists who are being so “helpful” for “the lost, the confused, the hurting, the scared” mothers who want to terminate their pregnancies are also courageous. They too are courageous for continuing to go into abortion clinics to dismember human beings and sell their body parts in the face of how “Christians” react to their rendering aide to these mothers. Is it really courageous to murder people? No. It isn’t. And if promoting transgender operations leads to higher incidences of depression and suicide in post-operative patients, then that’s the same exact thing as murdering unborn children — it just takes longer for the death to happen.

        I agree wholeheartedly that responding to Jenner and all those in the transgender community with love is paramount, but so is speaking the truth. You can’t have one without the other, as Jesus repeatedly demonstrates again and again and again throughout Scripture. What is most loving is speaking the truth with grace and mercy. I, too, have seen many shameful reactions to Jenner in “Christian” circles. Those reactions are abhorrent and should be rebuked — with love, grace, mercy, and truth.

        • The intent of my original post wasn’t to pass judgment one way or another on the morality of Jenner’s actions or on the effectiveness of her intentions to help people like her. Because of that, I didn’t emphasize my thoughts on those issues. However, your point about my seeming to endorse her efforts to “help” has been helpful to me as I re-read my post. While I was meaning to show how she was trying to help, it came across that I may have thought she was actually helping. I don’t think that at all — I totally agree with you on this — so I’ve re-worded a few sentences. You may still not agree with how I re-worded it, because I’m still calling her “courageous” and “loving,” because I think she is, at least on some level.

          We don’t live in the perfected world, and so we don’t own those words. To connect “courage” and “love” to Christian virtue isn’t wrong, but taken to its logical end, it excludes many loving people and courageous acts (misguided though they might be). The atheist mother who fights against “religion” in schools does actually love her child and is trying to protect her. The soldier fighting for the country in the wrong is still courageous because he’s risking his life for someone else. The adrenaline junkie might be impulsive and short-sighted, but what he does is still, on some level, brave, because he is facing fear and conquering it.

          I don’t always tie virtue to courage because this concept is not exclusive to Christians. I think that based on your argument about abortionists (which is a good argument), that this is where we differ. While the ideal definition of courage would be all wrapped up in virtue and honoring God and upholding life and truth, it’s not the actual definition in the fallen world. Synonyms for courage include audacity, daring, determination, fearlessness, tenacity; do we have the same associations of virtue with those words? The root of the word “courage” comes from the Latin for “heart.” I’m definitely no etymologist, but this personally makes me think of “following your heart,” which is terrible advice, Biblically. We know the heart is desperately sick, but the world doesn’t know this. Following the convictions of one’s own heart is courageous, because no matter what your convictions are, there will be opposition. Does that make following the convictions of your heart the morally, Biblically right thing to do? No, not unless the convictions of your heart are morally and Biblically right. 🙂 But, that doesn’t mean they’re not courageous, based on the definition of the word.

          That was my point. And further, that the way Caitlyn Jenner is behaving is displaying much more love (even if it’s tragically misguided) than many of those who are supposed to know True Love are, and that’s very shameful. And that’s the truth.

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