The year was 1905 and a bombastic man by the name of Gilbert Keith Chesterton published a book entitled Heretics that contained essays that criticized the body of doctrine expounded by some of his most famous contemporaries. In a review of Heretics, G.S. Street said, “I shall not begin to worry about my philosophy of life until Mr. Chesterton discloses his.” Given Street’s review, he knew what he was getting himself into. Thus, in response Chesterton said, “It was perhaps an incautious suggestion to make to a person only too ready to write books upon the feeblest provocation.” And that is why Chesterton ended up writing one of my favorite books ever, Orthodoxy.
In a similar vein, this post is an answer to a challenge. Just as Street did not need to read Orthodoxy, my challenger need not read this post. Like Orthodoxy, this post can only be termed a “slovenly autobiography”: “even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel.”
It was a few days ago when I asked the girl I am dating what she thought about male-female marital relationships. She said that she thought the woman should stay home once there are kids and that she does most of the cleaning, etc. This did not mean that the husband does no cleaning, but it’s far from a primary responsibility. Thus I found myself in the peculiar position of thinking that if we were to get married that I should be more involved in the very thing I despise: sweeping floors, doing dishes, and, if I dare mention it, doing laundry.
It’s not that I think women have to get a job and not stay at home. I think that is fine choice that many have made. I’m just not convinced that relationships should have those sort of gender roles automatically, and this for what many might think to be the most peculiar of reasons.
You see, I have found a different vision in the life and teachings of an unmarried, middle-aged, Jewish man who lived in the first century AD. He was a man from heaven, God on earth who came to be the long-awaited Messiah and the only true Man. In times of political tension he rejected the sword and in the adoration of crowds he felt called to serve. At one point, two of his followers asked to sit at his right and left hand, but he rebuked their attitudes of striving for positions of authority and glory as the world sees it. His other followers heard of their request and became indignant, but they missed the picture too. The other ten were not mad because James and John hadn’t yet understood the nature of Jesus’ Messiahship and kingdom, but because James and John beat them to the punch. In a place where reading for the first time we might think Jesus would emphasize how distinct he is in order to show why they cannot share in his glory, he instead tells them that He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45) and thereby invites us to participate in that glory.
We find him hanging out with the outcasts of society: prostitutes, tax collectors, and lepers. He cares about children who can offer him nothing. We find him being baptized in order to identify in his nation’s plight. It’s at that baptism that we find John the Baptist being perceptive when John recognizes that he is not even worthy to carry Jesus’ sandal, a statement said to a Man that we later find washing his disciples feet.
In Philippians 2:6-11, we find Paul teaching us that Jesus did not exploit his equality with God but instead took the form of a servant and died on a cross. Why? Did Paul just decide to wax eloquently about the status of Jesus and his suffering? We find the answer before that section: we are supposed to have the same mindset as Jesus by being humble, serving others, and valuing others above ourselves.
So I said that I don’t want a relationship where it’s a sort of score keeping or social contract. I shouldn’t worry about whether I had to do the dishes more than my allotted amount this week nor should I think about laundry and automatically classify it under the category of her duties.
“Yeah but who is actually that selfless?”
Not me, that’s for sure. I don’t think this because deep down I really enjoy doing laundry and want a stake in it. I’m halfway convinced that laundry is part of the fall, if not the main part. If you want to talk about our alienation from the created order, just look at the fact that we have to do laundry.
But I digress. None of us is that selfless. Obviously there will be days where I don’t want to do the dishes even though I should. Clearly there will be times where I will think about how doing the laundry is her job when that is the wrong attitude. Certainly there will be moments when I think about how hard my day is and how easy hers is and deplore the fact that I cannot even come home to a hot meal. But if falling short is a reason to not strive for something better, well, I would have given up on everything a long time ago.
Because I think a great many things are hard: properly understanding the Bible, living out the Christian faith, working on relationships, deeply and truly caring about others who have nothing they can offer me, and, if intuition is worth anything, wanting to do laundry when I get home after a 55-hour work week that was hopelessly tiring and frustrating. But I don’t want to go through life just skating by. I don’t want to get by with good enough. I know those things take work, but I’m not okay with not putting in the effort.
Naturally, all of that can be chalked up to my age. I’m idealistic and want to change the world in ways that haven’t happened. I want to live in a way that not many have gone before me have. And, so the point goes, as I get older I will grow out of this idealism and come back to the real world. Maybe so, but I hope not. I’d rather get my head in the heavens over taming heaven in order to get it into my head.
Then there was talk about compromise and a very perceptive question that was taken as the challenge to write this post: “Yeah but if she’s cool with doing it, what’s the problem?”
On compromise: “‘it is not ideal.’ -Michael Scott” -Brett Lunn. But more seriously, the problem I see it ties into the Biblical material discussed above. I guess I just don’t see it as following the teaching of the text. Maybe that’s just where I’m at and people are at different places (and maybe they are right and I am wrong), but I am not sure splitting up chores along gender lines or what we enjoy is right. We are called to revolutionary servanthood especially in the things we don’t like doing so that we might become more like the One True Man, the only Man who ever showed us what it was like to be Human perfectly, the same Man who ate with outcasts, visited possessed people at tombs, touched the diseased, fed those who wanted him to give into one of the biggest temptations he would face, and washed the feet of those who had followed him for awhile, but still didn’t understand.
I know there will be plenty of times where I would be happier if I didn’t have to do as much cleaning or whatever, but it’s not about happiness and what works best, it’s about wholeness of being, which is perfected in brokenness. As one thinker put it, “I wanna fold clothes for you; I wanna make you feel good.”
Because it’s in petty, unsexy decisions like this that we become more like the Master who taught us, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)