A Brief Origin of Chivalry

Chivalry, a derivation of the French word, cavalier, and similar to the Jersiais word, c’valyi, both of which translate to ‘horseman’, may ultimately find its origins in the collapse of the Carolingian empire in the ninth century. Following the death of Charles the Bald in 877AD, the remains of the empire crumbled beneath waves of Norse attacks and internal strife. The feudal society existing in the region degraded into chaotic violence as lords and knights waged merciless private wars amongst themselves.

To the Catholic Church’s credit, in the name of God they attempted to persuade violent and lawless lords to temper their brutality. In 989AD Archbishop Gunald of Bordeaux brought his bishops together in a synod at Charroux where they crafted the ‘Peace of God’ decree. The decree essentially stated that any person who robs the church, robs or makes war on the poor, or attacks clergy will be excommunicated and cursed until the offender makes amends. Excommunication was a substantial loss of status for lordly men, especially during a time when Europe was becoming heavily Christianized. The clergy would promote great gatherings of nobles where they were bid to swear oaths of peace on the relics of saints. The knight now had a Christian code of conduct he was under some pressure to follow.

In 1010AD King Robert the Pious of France, descendant of Rollo and cousin to Duke Richard the Good of Normandy, proclaimed the ‘Peace of God’, giving the heavenly decree an earthly enforcer. To break with God was to break with the king. France would be the birthplace of chivalry, and its reigning generation of French nobles would be the men who spread it to the rest of the world where it would be refined and expanded into the stuff of legend.

In writing the Night and the Serpent, I spent a great deal of time mulling over what era between the 11th and 14th centuries to place my characters. The days of Robert the Devil were the most natural fit so, to coincide with the advent of chivalry, I gave my anti-hero, Gaspard, the birth year of 1010AD.

Piss Christ

First off, I must apologize for the title of the essay. I find it repugnant. If you read to its completion, you will understand my decision to use it.

On September 11, 2012, an angry mob of Muslim Egyptians attacked the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The Egyptians started what turned into a suspiciously well-coordinated series of murderous, anti-American riots in Muslim countries around the globe blamed on a crude, insulting, anti-Muslim video that surfaced on the internet in July. As I watched the news one evening, a young, attractive reporter interviewed a distinguished, elderly man whom we are led to believe is a scholarly expert. When asked if, perhaps, Islam’s response was a bit excessive, the distinguished gentleman responded knowingly, “You can only imagine how Christians would respond if someone depicted Jesus so crudely!” The young reporter grimly bobbed her pretty head in agreement.

Funny thing is, the distinguished gentleman did not really answer the question. He simply left it to the viewer’s imagination. He only implied that, because Christians would respond with the same degree of anger and violence, we should be a bit more understanding and accepting of Islam’s outrage. Despite having a plethora of examples of Christian-hating people around the world who have denigrated Jesus Christ in the most offensive ways in the name of free speech and/or religious hatred, and Christendom’s subsequent response, he chose not to cite a single case. I am going to do it for him.

In the year 1987 American artist Andres Serrano submerged a crucifix in a jar of his own urine, photographed it and titled his work ‘Piss Christ.’ Living in a country where nearly 80% of the population identifies itself as Christian, it appeared a calculated move by the artist, for had he used any other media or technique to create the eerie, amber image, and simply titled it ‘Christ,’ it would have been neither newsworthy nor marketable. Mr. Serrano appears to lack the talent needed to gain fame through great works, the kind of talent possessed by real photographers such as Ansel Adams or Ray Atkinson, so he achieves it by stooping. His work is crude, base, foul, shocking, sacrilegious, and plain-ol’ gross. He fiddles with poo, pee, and just about every other bodily secretion, and seems to enjoy degrading religious symbols. To some he is a cutting-edge artist, but his real fame lays in his infamy… his ability to generate outrage. If he were not gross, no one would give him the time of day.

Christ’s passion, the events leading up to his crucifixion and death, began as Jesus gathered his disciples and a handful of other followers in the gardens of Gethsemane. Jesus knew his time was at hand, he was afraid, and came to the gardens to pray.

“My Father,” he said, “if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.”

Including Peter, many of his followers had swords on their belts. They lived in dangerous, lawless times, and carried the weapons to protect themselves from brigands. After some hours, the high priests and Pharisees arrived, accompanied by the temple guards and some Roman soldiers. The traitor, Judas, quickly identified Jesus and Jesus was immediately arrested. What followed is perhaps the single greatest moment in Christ’s ministry.

When the guards laid hands upon Jesus, one of his followers, possibly Peter, became enraged, drew his sword, and attacked a high priest’s servant, slicing off his ear. Had their lord called out for help, or commanded them to fight, I believe a bloody battle would have ensued, pitting Jesus’ followers against the guards and soldiers. Furthermore, the disciples would have been blameless for defending their lord’s life had such a battle taken place. However, Jesus ordered his followers to “Leave off!” and put their weapons away. In that moment, and forever forward, Jesus commanded his followers to put away their anger and desire to avenge him, and that is why Andres Serrano is alive today.

‘Piss Christ’ outraged Christendom. Jesus was betrayed, beaten, tortured, and spat upon in his final hours, then nailed to a Roman cross where he died. A few Romans and Jews actually took pleasure in the pain and suffering of Jesus. They laughed. They cast lots for his cloths. From the cross he forgave them all. Whether or not you believe Jesus is God become man, if you have even a shred of decency about you, you will not dare dismiss the graphic, inhuman suffering he endured in the hours leading up to his death. You will not dare dismiss his ability to forgive. For financial gain and notoriety, Andres Serrano urinated on Christ’s suffering and lived to tell the tale solely because two thousand years ago, Jesus cried out, “Leave off!” We are to turn the other cheek, especially when it comes to insults against the Lord.

Turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, giving a thief the shirt off your back, and forgiving a schmuck seven times seventy-seven times are no easy tasks. There are over two billion Christians in this world, and Mr. Serrano has dared every one of them on many an occasion to retaliate. He has received a few threats, a bit of hate mail, and a few angry Christians have defaced a bit of his art, but he came through it alive by and large because Christians understand God is so great that worldly insults from the likes of this man, as infuriating as they are, have no power on earth or in heaven. God reserves the right to separate the wheat from the chaff. God alone knows our hearts and our grievances. God alone reserves the right to pass final judgment for Mr. Serrano as well as for the rest of us.

I suspect that Mr. Serrano knew he could get away with it… in this life, anyway. I suspect he is a coward who judged that the fundamental code of Christian conduct would largely protect him. But I will tell you what, if he were a citizen in a Muslim country and took a photo call ‘Piss Muhammed’ he would be dragged from his house and stoned to death the same day. There is no question about it. Of course, if he disagrees, he is welcome to test my theory out.

This is how our distinguished, elderly gentleman should have answered our young, attractive reporter. This is the truth of the matter. Christians are not perfect, and sometimes get caught up in vengeful schemes, but to imply that the scale of Christendom’s response to insults is proportionally equal to Islam’s is an outright lie.

Taking Off The Training Wheels – first published in Goal Lines Magazine April, 2008

Back in 1995 an author named Barbara Feinman Todd, whom I had never heard of, wrote a book titled “It Takes a Village”, that I never read.  Hillary Clinton pasted her name on the cover and made it an instant best seller, but was also thoroughly ridiculed for failing to acknowledge Feinman Todd’s efforts.  The book was quickly relegated to water-cooler mockery and shelved near Milli Vanilli’s debut album, “All or Nothing”, in the ‘Lacking Authenticity’ section of history.

Still, the concept ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is as old as man.  Aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, employers and coaches all provide depth and breadth to the growth of our children parents cannot hope to achieve alone.  Not only do these folks bring unique lessons and perspectives into the lives of our youth, they force the kids to cope with a wide variety of personalities in a very intimate setting not conveniently escaped.  Learning to cope with the world may be the greatest lesson of them all, as no one can hide behind their mother’s skirt forever.

In today’s America, coaches bring a unique set of lessons to the table.  Lessons parents shouldn’t teach, and lessons our litigious society has forbidden most schoolteachers to bring to the classroom.  Coaches demand!  They demand from the wealthy and they demand from the poor.  They demand from kids who are broken the same as they demand from kids who are whole.  The student either commits, or goes home.  This applies not just to athletic coaches, but all coaches that exist in places such as the fine arts, dance, music, voice, etc.  Coaches force their students to decide to work hard of their own free will, independent of their parents, or pack it up and quit.

There are good coaches and there are bad coaches and the difference between the two is often simply a matter of opinion.  I never played football and despised my high school’s football coach, but I do have to admit – he was a hell of a coach, winning a state championship my freshman year and league championship my senior year.  His players worked hard and respected his authority.  Wrestling was my sport, and besides my father, my high school coaches, Ron James and Rae Endicott, were easily the most influential men in my life.  They took a lazy, belligerent, smart-mouthed fourteen-year-old boy and destroyed him.  Every day.  For four months.  Halfway through my freshman season of sprains, pulled muscles and black eyes, Coach James and Coach Endicott took me aside and looked me in the eye without mercy, and told me… not asked… told me I needed to decide whether or not I wanted to be there.  It was a turning point in my life.  I was an awful wrestler.  I was half-ass.  I got pinned every time I stepped on the mat.  I could have quit and walked away and no one would have cared – a choice many of my teammates made.  Instead I committed 100%, and in return, my coaches committed to me.  I only won a single match that year, but achieved a far greater milestone.  My coaches forced me to make my first adult decision in their mission to change me from a boy to a man.

During those years my parents also gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life – they did not interfere with the relationship I had with my coaches.  They didn’t ring them on the telephone complaining about my many injuries.  They didn’t file a grievance with the athletic director when they thought I was cutting too much weight.  While they certainly did not enjoy watching me lose all the time, they never pulled my coach aside and whined.  As a freshman, I was so far down the depth-chart in my weight-class, I often spent an entire meet on the bench without a match.  No complaint from my folks.  Certainly, if either coach posed a real danger to me, say, supplying me with illegal drugs or alcohol, promoting sexual misconduct, intentionally making me the target of hazing, or withholding asthma medication, my parents would have stepped in and there would have been hell to pay.  In the absence of any serious threat, I was left alone to be my own advocate.  I could work hard, or I could quit.  It was entirely up to me.

I realize it was a different time back in the day when I was young.  Parents were generally far less invested in their child’s athletic careers than today.  The new generation of sports parent carries a load unheard until very late in the 20th Century.  Private clubs now dominate the youth landscape and they demand as much from Mom and Dad as they do from Junior.  We are used to meddling in the relationship between coach and athlete, and coaches understand they must manage the folks as well as the kids in order to make the system work.  This makes the day our sweet darlings enter high school all the more difficult.  We need to let go of our meddlesome tendencies and turn control over to the athletes themselves so they can start down the road to being an adult.  No easy task, for sure.  Many of us have been organizing teams, carpools and fundraisers since our tots were in kindergarten.  The titles of Soccer Mom and Sports Dad are not always easy to abdicate, but I am telling you, for the sake of your kid, you have to do it.  You have to begin turning control over to the athlete.  My eldest daughter turns sixteen this year and it scares the hell out of me she will be driving herself to school and practice alone, but I cannot let that fear prevent me from letting her take on adult responsibilities.  I have to step back and let go.

Wrestling in high school was easily the second most difficult achievement of my life, and it prepared me to survive my life’s hardest challenge, OSU’s grueling pharmacy program, far better than any class or teacher ever did.  Had I not been forced to make my own decisions and my own mistakes as an athlete, I likely would not be where I am today – and I am in a very good place.  In turn, as my parents did for me, I will try to do for my own.  I am just taking off yet one more set of training wheels.