There are three separate strands I want to pick up from yesterday’s post.
Being Fair to the Complementarians
First, I asked in the post that people would correct me if I was misrepresenting CBMW. Shane Anderson on Twitter obliged by pointing me toward this post from 2015 that is addressing the “what about wives who make more than their husbands?” question. (So, thank you Shane. :) )
Here are a few other posts at CBMW addressing some of the questions I was raising yesterday:
- A Vision for Kingdom Hospitality
- The Dream and Reality of Including Children in Your Hospitality
- The Meaning of Mundane Work
If there are other posts I’m missing, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll update the post. I want to be fair here and if CBMW or other prominent complementarians have addressed some of these issues, I want to make note of that.
Women’s Ordination and Evangelicalism
Second, several people pointed out to me that in some non-denominational contexts and in evangelical Anglican churches, women’s ordination is still very much a live question and so yesterday’s easy dismissal of that question was not helpful for people in those contexts. I’ll grant that point and also fess up that when I wrote that I was thinking primarily of the PCA (my own church home) as well as the SBC and Acts 29, all of which have pretty firmly and unambiguously rejected women’s ordination.
That said, I do want to push back a little on that argument, particular as it comes from Anglican readers. Clearly, Anglicanism has a strong pull for people coming out of prominent Christian colleges, particularly Wheaton. That said, I’m not sure about it’s broader relevance to the church because I’m not sure the specific brand of Anglicanism currently en vogue amongst many younger evangelicals will necessarily exert the same sort of appeal on people who did not grow up in 90s-era evangelicalism.
I could be way off on that, but most of the Anglicans I’ve known (cue Trump voice) and I love the Anglicans; they’re wonderful people (end Trump voice) have come out of the kind of kingmaker Christian colleges (Wheaton, Calvin, Biola, Hillsdale, Patrick Henry, etc.) that produce prominent, influential graduates but not necessarily people who are representative of mainstream evangelicalism. That’s not meant as a dig, but simply an observation.
From what I have observed, American evangelical Anglicanism mirrors the old Episcopalian church in that it is a church that attracts evangelical elites and so, while exerting a certain sort of strong influence, it is also not representative of the mainstream in the same way that non-denominational churches or the SBC are. So it’s possible that an issue is both very much a live debate within evangelical Anglicanism and more settled and decided within more mainstream evangelicalism.
The Home Economics Question
Third, and most importantly, several people made some version of the “what you’re saying about economics sounds great, but how do you put any of it into practice?” I want to answer that question in particular because it’s one of the most important questions any Christian in the United States in 2016 can ask.
Let’s start with some book recommendations. On hospitality, home-making, and creativity, Edith Schaeffer’s Hidden Art, What is a Family?, and Forever Music are all helpful. Do know, though, that Edith has a very… we’ll say “distinct” writing style and it can be difficult to follow and, depending on your taste and personality type, incredibly annoying. Also keep in mind that as far as work-rate and capacity goes Edith is probably one of the most unique Christians of the past 100 years and so we should be very cautious about treating her capabilities as a standard for everyone. (We have a close family friend who is herself a remarkably hard worker, full of energy, who helped to care for Edith after Dr. Schaeffer died. Edith was in her late 70s. Our friend and her sister who were caring for her were teenagers. It took both of them to keep up with Edith.) That said, Edith is still a very helpful writer on these points, I think. If nothing else, she’ll hopefully succeed at curing everyone who reads her of the idea that the work of building and maintaining a home will, inevitably, become tedious.
In a similar style, you might also consider Susan Macaulay’s books For the Family’s Sake and For the Children’s Sake. Susan is Francis and Edith’s daughter and in many ways carries on her mother’s work in her own books. Both of these books have had a significant impact on both myself and my wife.
Hannah Anderson’s Made for More, though not explicitly focused around the question of home economies, has a lot of useful things to say as well. (I try to read everything Hannah writes on anything related to gender.)
Taking a slightly different approach, I would highly recommend watching The Seer, the biopic about Wendell Berry that we reviewed earlier this year. (You can pre-order the film on the official website.) One thing that Laura Dunn, the filmmaker, does a really good job of highlighting is that Tanya Berry, Wendell’s wife, had no prior experience of farm life prior to marrying Wendell and moving to the camp house that he wrote about in “The Long Legged House.” Of that, Tanya, in an interview with Dunn, says:
After I finally got done with school, 22 different schools because we moved and moved and moved, I had a really intense desire to have my children be somewhere where they belonged. And Wendell needed to be home. He did not need to be in San Francisco or in Europe or in New York or whatever. We’d done all that. He needed to be home. And I was flexible because I didn’t belong anywhere in particular. So I took this on with him. And it’s not always been perfect. None of it has been perfect, but it’s been right. It’s been the right thing. I had to learn how to be a farmer, I had to learn how to grow food and can it and freeze it and take care of lots and lots of company and feed a whole lot of people.
Thanks to the older women who were willing to help me, who already knew what they were doing, they befriended me and helped me learn what I needed to know and hung on for a long time when I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and thought I knew everything. I just had to keep learning. It’s been an amazing experience and I love it.
People say “what do you do if you don’t have a home?” I say, well you can make a home. You can be home somewhere. Gary Snyder said ‘just stop somewhere.’
Creating a home is difficult, but I think Tanya is helpful here in making the point that it can be done. My wife and I have learned a number of different skills in the early years of our marriage. Avail yourself of the resources that are at hand—start with people in your local church, but then for other practical skills, use the internet. There’s no lack of how-to videos on YouTube for any number of different things you might need to do in a home as well as other instructional articles and walkthrough guides. Learn new things. Apply them in your home. Making a home in some grand sense might be hard, but learning to bake homemade pies and then making Sunday evening pie night, as some family friends of ours have done, is not hard; it just requires making that thing a priority and saying “no” to other good things in order to retain that part of your home life.
Other books to read: Wendell’s Art of the Commonplace as well as the essays “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine” and “The Body and the Earth.” Those two essays will give you a better understanding of the economic and cultural challenges facing families than any evangelical book I’ve ever read on the topic. Standing by Words and The Long-Legged House are also helpful on these things.
This is a bit odd as a recommendation, but I’d also encourage people to go back to Tolkien and read The Lord of the Rings again, particularly “The Scouring of the Shire,” at the end of Return of the King. Tolkien (and Lewis too, for that matter) was very clear on these issues and, indeed, both he and Lewis actually place a certain environmental ethic and economic way of life near the heart of their work. This is particularly clear in Lewis’s Ransom trilogy (especially in That Hideous Strength) and also in The Last Battle. I recommend these works not because they’re going to give you a roadmap to a fully realized home economy, but because they are going to help orient you and to teach you to love the right things. If we learn to love our local places and to see how to serve and help them, then the greatest struggle is already sorted out.
Practical Ideas for Home Economies
Practically speaking, one idea I’ve played with a lot but have not yet had opportunity to realize is trying to organize a Neighborly Arts weekend through a local church. The structure of it would be relatively simple: You’d get 2-3 people with specific useful skills that are willing to teach people that skill. So, thinking of my own context, some of the ideas I’ve had are seeing if a guy from my church who can fix basically any machine you put in front of him would be willing to take some sort of common car repair and show everyone who wants to learn how to do it. It could be something simple like changing the oil or putting in new spark plugs or something more involved. Other things I’ve kicked around: There’s a family we know who have their own business doing custom carpentry. So I’ve had the thought that maybe the husband, who does the woodworking, could perhaps teach people who to refinish a desk or something like that or perhaps the wife, who does the books for the business, could teach people how to manage the financial side of a small home-based business.
There are two things I like about this idea: First, it is extremely responsive to the local realities of a given group. Second, it is teaching people how to do a certain thing for themselves. One of the things that has come out of my dad’s brain injury is it has made me more aware of how important it is that we have the ability to do certain technical tasks around the home. Our family doesn’t have the money to do all the things that would have needed to be done to make my parents’ home accessible. That said, they have friends who are extremely talented and who have built a wheelchair ramp and redone the downstairs bathroom to make it accessible. Here’s the bathroom:
My parents have been richly blessed by the availability and knowledge of a small group of their friends. I can’t speak for others, but I personally sometimes act as if the really important thing when it comes to expressing support and love for people is about expressing my shared sorrow to them, finding the right words, conveying the right feelings, and so on. But sometimes people don’t need your kind words, they need a very specific task to get done. And if you don’t have the skills to do that task, you’re not able to serve them in that way. So there’s a very real sense in which the more craft competent you are in various arenas, the better able you are to love your brothers and sisters in the church. That’s actually a gravely serious thing for someone like myself, who is extremely bookish and generally not very handy or practical at all.
So my counsel on this point is to start small. There’s really only two things you need to think about doing: First, be able to explain how cultivating neighborly arts helps you to better serve and love your neighbors in and outside the church. In one sense, that’s as simple as pointing at a few Bible verses. But I think you can also use things like Tolkien’s “Scouring of the Shire” to give people a picture in their mind of what a world bound together chiefly by affection and love can be. And that can be a powerful motivator as well. Second, you need to be taking little steps toward helping people develop skills and abilities that allow them to serve and love their neighbors. This can be extremely basic: If you’re an older person in the church who has acquired a fair number of skills over your life, make yourself available to people. If you are young and fairly stupid (as I still am in many ways), try to seek out people who can help you grow in these ways. And if you have enough interest built up in a church, try putting together something like a neighborly arts weekend.
Finally, if we are going to address the high-level, systematic issues with our economy, one of the main ways we can do that is by starting businesses that adhere to an alternative rule of life and economics. (You can easily argue that one of the most important and influential Christian enterprises in the past 50 years in America is Chick-fil-a with Hobby Lobby not far behind.) So for churches in positions to do so, encouraging entrepreneurship can also be a great good. There aren’t many people who are going to be able to be self-employed so as to create the sort of independent home economy I’m describing. But if we had more Christian business owners finding ways to build companies and businesses and use the profits to bless people through providing employment in a company that will be more family-friendly and humane, then those blessings of self-employment that you’d have in traditional agrarian economies can, in some ways, be replicated in more urban settings with employment-based economies.