Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Kitchen wives, part 3

Read this previous post for context.

After having some fun with my last post on kitchen wives, I did want to make a more serious point about the blurb that has generated all this fuss:
Carolyn is her husband's favorite theologian. She is not a kitchen wife. She does not keep house, cook, clean or sew, but she reads an awful lot and often talks to women (and sometimes men) from all over the world about women's struggles within the evangelical church. Lately, she has been reading a lot on the plight of women in the Middle East. She helped establish Synergy Conferences for women seminarians and women in vocational ministries, which is sponsored by her ministry organization, Whitby Forum, in alliance with Campus Crusade for Christ International and RTS/Orlando.
Many have been quick to accuse Carolyn James of demeaning homemakers; however, her intent may have been something entirely different. Imagine the following:
Bubba is his wife's favorite theologian. He is not a yard work husband. He does not fix cars, watch sports, or mow the lawn, but he reads an awful lot and often talks to men (and sometimes women) from all over the world about men's struggles within the evangelical church. Lately, he has been reading a lot on the plight of men in the Middle East. He helped establish...
If we go to hear Bubba speak, we know we're not going to get sports analogies, cutesy anecdotes about lawnmower mishaps, or tales of power tools --- we're going to get a theologian's perspective on men's issues in the church and in the Middle East. Maybe sports fans will get their knickers in a twist and imagine that he is "dissing" them, but I doubt it.

When people think of "women speakers", all too often they expect women to talk primarily about the domestic sphere. A certain church talk I had to endure in my youth, all about a three-layered cake, continues to exist in our family lore as the worst example of what some believe a women speaker should be all about. Carolyn James, probably, simply wants to be upfront. If you want her to talk about household tips, about cooking ideas, about three layer cakes, about finding God in the laundry room, she doesn't want you to be disappointed, but she is simply not the woman for that speaking engagement. If you want to her a theologian's perspective on women in the church, maybe she will fit the bill.

Let's not be so thin-skinned. Everything is not about us. Everything is not an attack on mom and apple pie.


  1. I enjoyed your posts on this topic very much.

  2. hey rebecca,
    loved your kitchen wives thoughts..
    and i LOVE your blog title "Random musings on any number of topics, inspired by real life...and coffee"

    i made a caffeine-dash to my fave coffee beans shop today..
    (found your blog via tulip girl)
    :o) k xx

  3. The irony is that the very same people who would lambaste Carolyn would probably say "wow, that Bubba really must have some deep spiritual insight, I'm not going to miss his talk!"

  4. Thanks for freeing us to be the wives that our husbands want us to be. Even now as I write this, my broom stands still where I left it beside a box only half-packed.
    But yesterday, I was thinking about eternity and what counts the most and believe me, no household or domestic task came to mind. Knowing Christ and His Word however were on my mind. Being students of the Word is not just for the scholars and pastors.
    Hand me that commentary, please.

  5. I thought she was kidding when she said that she was her husband's favorite theologian and that she wasn't a kitchen wife. It sounded like something I would say :-). I was shocked to read that women were actually upset by the whole thing.

    I'm not much of a housekeeper but my husband and kids are happy with me and encourage me in my seminary career, writing and now, blogs.

    Thanks for your articles. I think that what you said needed to be said before this went any further. And now I can link to you and not have to say anything more. Thank you for doing my writing for me :-).

  6. "I was thinking about eternity and what counts the most and believe me, no household or domestic task came to mind."

    And yet. . . I do believe that creating gracious, welcoming homes--especially for our husbands and children--does have an impact on them that lasts.

    For me, a clean and orderly home elevates my mood, my thoughts, my peacefulness. . . Honestly, I'm not the greatest at the nitty-gritty of housekeeping. But I keep plugging away, because I want my children to have a lovely, orderly environment.

  7. I do agree with TulipGirl.

    While we ought not elevate domestic duties and find our identity in them, we can know that a task can be done in a worshipful way that honors God (and blesses those in our home). I am reminded of a very small book called "the Quotidian Mysteries" by Kathleen Norris.

  8. TulipGirl and Jamie, excellent points. I really do believe that we can honor and serve God in the most mundane of tasks. I also believe that, beyond being caught up in the menial chores, we can do them for the purpose of glorifying God as we create a home atmosphere that is pleasing to Him and ministers to our families.

    I know some who are so extremely oriented towards having a "spotless home" that their own families feel in the way. But that doesn't mean that the solution is to live in squalor.

    One of the things I loved during my childhood is that our homes, though sometimes quite simple, were always cozy and tidy and welcoming. My mother certainly did not seem like a household drudge, but she excelled --- and still does --- in the domestic sphere (and other spheres as well). To her, those tasks are not an end in themselves; she is dedicated to creating a lovely and peaceful and joyful home environment that is a delight to my everyone who lives there, especially my father. That is a wonderful ministry.

  9. I guess the problem that I see with the blurb is that it appears to suggest that domestic labor and spiritual or intellectual pursuits are mutually exclusive. And I do think, without resorting to Victorian "angel in the home" theorizing, that domestic tasks are indeed important in light of eternity. Think of C.S. Lewis's portrayal of the female saint in his excellent "The Great Divorce", for example.

    However, in defense of the description of Carolyn, it is true in some circles that a woman who does not "keep house, cook, clean, or sew" is assumed to be somehow be less of a wife than those who do. This is certainly not true. However, as with many things that involve women, I believe that in order to defend one mode of doing things, another has potentially been denegrated. I think the pretend passage starring Bubba illustrates that women's identities are at stake here, simply because that equivalent passage would never have been written. A man being his wife's favorite theologian wouldn't be all that unusual, and a man giving a speech wouldn't be expected to speak "as a man"--i.e., as a person who must refer to things such as yard work, sports, and so on.

    Anyway, interesting discussion. Thanks!

  10. Excellent post Rebecca. Seems to me there has been an over-reaction to a womans blog blurb. She chose to describe herself that way and I took it like you did.

  11. I guess my comments gave the impression that keeping clean and orderly homes aren't important.
    I don't think that way at all.
    I think it does matter. However, my point in my reflection is that God and His Word are eternal, my house and it's belongings are not. I want to be a good steward, but I also recognize that time spent in prayer and reading is time well spent and should not be rushed so that I can scrub my tub.
    Perhaps even those remarks do not bring clarification, but the Lord knows my heart.

  12. Oh, Heather. . . I wasn't criticizing you! I was just expounding on how. . . since the domestic arts do not come naturally to me (I'd rather be reading). . . I've found that I do need to consciously recognize the value in them so that I *do* attend to them in a way that serves my family (and myself.)