I come from a cavalry family, as in horse soldiers. My great-grandfather was a cavalry scout in the frontier West. My grandfather commanded the Army’s last horse cavalry regiment (in 1938, believe it or not). At that point, our family switched from horses to tanks, and both my father and I served as tank officers. Suffice it to say that I possess a fair amount of cavalry paraphernalia. In fact, I am writing this at a desk beneath a print of a horse cavalryman firing from his saddle.
Of all the great cavalry movies, none holds a dearer place in my heart than John Wayne’s classic, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Portraying Captain Nathan Briddles, a grizzled Civil War veteran who is facing the end of his career, the Duke is a walking cornucopia of manliness. When I was a young armored cav officer, I not only watched this movie roughly a thousand times but absorbed much of its ethos. Anyone who has seen this movie can tell you that Captain Briddles’ approach to manliness can be summed up in two words: Never apologize! Over and over again, he grills his hapless lieutenants, always with the same emphasis: “Never apologize, Mister!” I am afraid that I took this counsel a bit too much to heart, with the result that my early 20s were a little more obnoxious than they needed to be.
When I became a Christian, however, I learned that not every manly saying in John Wayne movies should be adopted. “Never apologize” may sound great in theory, but in practice it can combine with a man’s sin nature to make him overbearing and arrogant. As I became more familiar with Scripture, I learned about two different words that do a far better job of summarizing how a man should live. These are: “work” and “keep.” Taken together, these two words serve as a summary of the Bible’s mandate for masculine behavior. Men are called to be men, fulfilling our calling before God in this world: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Our calling in life really is this simple (although not therefore easy): We are to devote ourselves to working/building and keeping/protecting everything placed into our charge. What exactly do these two words signify? Let’s take a few moments to look more closely.
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