God In The Home
Brother Lawrence is pretty much my hero. In the seventeenth century, this man joined a monastery, but lacking education he was placed on perpetual dish duty. Even in the 17th century doing dishes was considered the worst job, apparently. Yet this dishwashing monk became famous for his work Practicing the Presence of God and is routinely cited to this day, inspiring works like Greg Boyd’s Present Perfect. In my opinion, if you are looking for any one spiritual discipline to cultivate, it is this one: being aware of God’s presence in every instant. Even in washing dishes all day, in the noise and chaos of a large dish room suitable for serving a monastery, Lawrence discussed how it was all powerful to him because he learned to feel God’s presence in it all. Lawrence teaches us that God is equally in all places at all times, not restricted to what our societal norms teach are the more respectable domains, and that through deliberate effort we can learn to recognize that on an almost-continual basis.
Sometimes my well-educated friends look at me funny when I suggest that maybe getting educated and being in the workforce isn’t the best option for everyone. The general consensus is that if you can have a higher-paying, more-academic job, you should do it. It is assumed that it will automatically be more fulfilling than other types of work. Here in Canada, at least, we seem to have a problem of a lot of people with degrees that can’t get jobs. There are all kinds of jobs available, just not in the academic sphere that we’ve been trained in. Since we’ve been trained to think that sitting at a computer or in a board room is more respectable than trades, many refuse to take the necessary grunt-work jobs. We need to shatter this assumption, especially in Christian circles, that some jobs are more honourable than others.
I launched into this topic, of course, because of the chapter in Year of Biblical Womanhood in which Rachel discusses her attempts to become more domestic. Her natural inclination doesn’t particularly resemble the domestic goddess of so-called “biblical womanhood.” She struggles, but eventually learns to appreciate cooking (cleaning not so much) largely through ridding herself of the assumption that it is less meaningful than her usual work. After her own reflection on this topic, she says this powerful line: “I guess we’re all a little afraid that if God’s presence is there, it cannot be here.” If we claim that God is found in washing dishes, then we’re afraid that God can’t also be found in the workplace. Isn’t that what it comes down to for many of us? We have a shrunken view of God.
Complementarian readers may now be going, “exactly! So we need to restrict women to the home and men to the public sphere!” That’s a pretty massive jump in logic. Just because we should honour the home and see God there doesn’t mean we should force women into it, and just because we should honour the workplace and see God there doesn’t mean we should force men into it. Try it with the genders reversed and you should see how ridiculous it sounds. It’s just historical precedent, including historical precedent of how to interpret certain biblical passages, which makes us think otherwise. We like to limit God by saying that he is only found in the home for women and in the public sphere for men. Then we have God conveniently in line with our cultural expectations. I think that is a huge problem not just for the oppression it can create against both men and women to find God in one place but not in another, but also because of the shrinking of God which will spread to the rest of our theologies and then our lifestyles.
I’d make a perhaps-controversial thesis: within a couple of generations I think we will be largely returned to single-income families. One thing that the modern biblical womanhood movement does have right is that we need to honour the home as highly as we honour the workplace. I think a lot of people, Christian or not, will realize this. But whether that income is the man’s or the woman’s (of course there are also the same-sex households) should be unimportant. Some men experience God powerfully in cleaning their house or parenting, and some women do when they’re preaching or counselling a member of their church. I hope that the church is able to model that we are all equal while performing different roles but that our roles are determined by our calling and not by our genitalia.