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Of Revolutions And Dirty Dishes

Christian blogger Tish Harrison Warren writes about the challenges of everydayness [1]:

I spent a little while in two different intentional Christian communities, hanging out with homeless teenagers, and going to a church called “Scum of the Earth” (really). I gave away a bunch of clothes, went barefoot, and wanted to be among the “least of these.” At a gathering of Christian communities, I slept in a cornfield and spent a week using composting toilets, learning to make my own cleaning supplies, and discussing Christian anarchy while listening to mewithoutyou. I went to Christian Community Development Association conferences, headed up a tutoring program for impoverished, immigrant children, and interned at some churches trying to bridge the gap between wealthier evangelicals and the poor. I was certainly not as radical as many Christian radicals — a lot of folks are doing more good than I could ever hope to and, besides, I’ve never had dreadlocks — but I did have some “ordinary radical” street cred.

Now, I’m a thirty-something with two kids living a more or less ordinary life. And what I’m slowly realizing is that, for me, being in the house all day with a baby and a two-year-old is a lot more scary and a lot harder than being in a war-torn African village. What I need courage for is the ordinary, the daily every-dayness of life. Caring for a homeless kid is a lot more thrilling to me than listening well to the people in my home. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on an average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it.

Soon after college, one of my best friends who is brilliant and brave and godly had a nervous breakdown. He was passionate about the poor and wanted to change at least a little bit of the world. He was trained as an educator and intentionally went to one of the poorest, most crime-ridden schools in our state and worked every day trying to make a difference in the lives of students who had been failed by nearly everyone and everything — from their parents to the educational system. After his “episode,” he had to go back to his hometown and live a small, ordinary life as he recovered, working as a waiter living in an upper-middle class neighborhood. When he’d landed back home, weary and discouraged, we talked about what had gone wrong. We had gone to a top college where people achieved big things. They wrote books and started non-profits. We were told again and again that we’d be world-changers. We were part of a young, Christian movement that encouraged us to live bold, meaningful lives of discipleship, which baptized this world-changing impetus as the way to really follow after Jesus. We were challenged to impact and serve the world in radical ways, but we never learned how to be an average person living an average life in a beautiful way.

She adds:

A prominent New Monasticism community house had a sign on the wall that famously read “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.”

Read the whole thing. [1]It’s really good. And for some reason, it reminds me of that Simpsons episode in which Lisa comes to love a substitute teacher, Mr. Bergstrom (voiced by Dustin Hoffman), who is reassigned to another school. Lisa begs him not to go:

MR. BERGSTROM: “But they need me over in Capital City.”
LISA: “But I need you too.”
MR. BERGSTROM: “When you’re middle-class, anybody who cares will leave to help someone needier.”
LISA: “I understand.”

63 Comments (Open | Close)

63 Comments To "Of Revolutions And Dirty Dishes"

#1 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On July 10, 2013 @ 11:31 am

sdb said:

We have to live our lives now, and when your life is mundane and you don’t see prospects of it getting better, that’s hard.

It’s the failure to see the prospects of it changing and improving that is her cognitive error. Her children will only be a baby and a two-year-old for what will seem like the blink of an eye in hindsight.

My daughter had colic as a a baby. For the first three months she cried in the evening, and the only thing that soothed her was me holding her face down cradled in an arm, and walking up and down the main stairs. I did it for over an hour some days.

Now that was hard at the time, but that three months was a small amount of time in the context of our lives. So keeping in mind the transient nature of a difficulty like colic helped me deal with it.

#2 Comment By Blairburton On July 10, 2013 @ 11:37 am

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you…Let me not pass by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow…and want more than all the world, your return.” — Mary Jean Iron

#3 Comment By Gretchen Fagan On July 10, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

I am one of Tish’s friends, have known her for over 4 years and appreciate how candid she (always) is with her struggles. It saddens me to read the criticisms of Tish’s character from those who do not know her, have only read an excerpt from her blog and thus are basically unwilling to give her room to just have a voice based on her own experience. “…This person is so full of herself?” Really? Annek can sum up character that quickly without ever having met her? I hope Annek read the rest of the post and decided to give Tish a bit more grace to be well, human.

Michelle writes, “Why can’t this woman both embrace the ordinary and still reach out? She needn’t go all the way to Africa. Surely, there’s plenty of need within her own community, plenty of places to which she can donate her time and energies while still devoting herself to her family.” How do you know she doesn’t? She wrote a brief blog, not her life story.

Tish reminds us that regardless of where one is at in life, God is not limited by our circumstances, struggles and status (or lack thereof) but rather comes down to our humble place and chooses to make Himself known in our midst. Jesus came as a baby in a manger and died among thieves. The majority of his life was quite possibly mundane. I am glad He can relate to mine.

Thank you Rod for highlighting Tish’s post.

#4 Comment By AmyP On July 10, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

“When you grow up in that mindset, when you’re a kid being raised in that environment, you’re in middle school and high school, being encouraged to live a life of “radical surrender” or some other such phrase. It’s exciting, it sounds important, and it just feels right. But you’re immature, and you’re at a really selfish age. You’re being constantly told to do the big stuff, but you haven’t even tried the little stuff. It’s telling kids to live lives of insane service, when they’re still at a point where they can’t stand being told by Mom and Dad to help with the dishes or vaccuum a room or to stop texting because we’re having dinner now. Of course those people are going to end up being less able to handle everyday life than volunteering to spend 6 months living in poverty in some Third World nation for Jesus.”

That is so true. I remember being in InterVarsity in college and so many people were very into living lives of heroic self-sacrifice in the inner city or wherever (and were honestly really amazing people). However, for an ordinary person like myself, being a thoughtful roommate and a respectful adult child were actually fairly challenging tasks (if we were even self-aware enough to realize it). How can we save the whole world, if we are leaving cheese crud on the inside of the microwave for our roommate to clean up? (I did that!)

This is something for those of us who are parents to bear in mind, that the big picture and the little picture go hand in hand, and that along with encouraging big picture idealism (which comes very naturally), we need to bring kids up to take responsibility at home, so that domestic tasks will not come as a surprise or a shock for them when they reach adulthood and young parenthood.

[NFR: Yes, and this is what I’m trying to get at in The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming. I didn’t think I did better in life than my sister, even though I lived by comparison a “big” life, in broad strokes. But I didn’t realize either how much incredible good one could do by simply being an ordinary person teaching school and living in a plain way. — RD]

#5 Comment By La Lubu On July 10, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

I suspect that what she misses from her missionary experience is: considerable contact/camaraderie with other people, the experience and accomplishment that comes from working together, learning/developing new skills, meeting new people, traveling to new places, the adrenaline rush of danger, the exertion/exhaustion of moving major muscle groups in hard physical labor, seeing physically the results of one’s work….

….and I say that because despite our (mine and the author’s) differences, those are all elements that attracted me to my line of work. Those are also elements that are greatly missing from the Average USian New Mother experience.

The problem isn’t with Tish Harrison Warren. Housework really is boring, even though it needs to be done. Being alone (especially if you’re an extrovert that thrives on company) really is isolating. She’s not an ingrate or failure for not finding fulfillment in an environment that excludes (mostly artificially) the elements she thrives in.

#6 Comment By Brooke West On July 10, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

Great post, Tish. You put words on what a lot of women (myself included) are feeling as we live in a toddler and family reality after coming out of the progressive liberal arts world, especially those of us with an evangelical background.

I’ve been struck by those in the comments who are trying to “fix” you, saying that you’re not happy so clearly you need to find a different outlet, yada yada. Friend, you are courageous to know that your life is not solely for your happiness. I am proud and honored to know you, to parent my kids near you, and to love Jesus next to you. You are a strong and brave woman, and you are a good writer.

[Note From Rod: I agree that you are a good writer, and I related to what you had to say here. Keep on going! — RD]

#7 Comment By Annek On July 10, 2013 @ 3:45 pm


“I get that it lacks the glamor of being a radical for Jesus, whatever that means, but the ordinary is the stuff of real life. Maybe I’m getting to be an old fogey or something, but I just want to shake this girl and tell her to grow up.”

I agree.

#8 Comment By RB On July 10, 2013 @ 7:29 pm

The really radical thing about a lot of the gospel is that we are asked to sacrifice our desire for recognition and control and trust that God sees deeper and wider than humans do.

I have felt the same frustrations before; volunteering in an African village is a more visible act of service than parenting happily and well. More visible, but not more worthy.

Helping people in another country is important, but being good to the people in your family is irreplaceable. I know I kinda expect secular society to have the short-attention-span view of what makes work worthy or important, but it’s frustrating when our church communities are just as shortsighted.

What a blessing it would have been if my great-grandfather had been a good man, loving and kind to his family and a good provider. His failures and mistakes darkened my grandfather’s life, and his brothers and sisters. This led to my mother being abandoned with her siblings and growing up in poverty with her siblings. She was the only physical escapee from that poverty and hunger, which many of my cousins are still struggling with. Four generations of suffering affects as many people as an African village.

My husband and I consider it our vocation to do everything we can to create a better legacy for our children. We call it Remedial Adulthood and it’s hard, and not very well supported. We see how much less effort it takes for people who grew up in intact homes and envy it sometimes, because they can take some thing for granted that we have to work hard to do. But that’s how it is in the mission field, and that’s what my family is for me.

But it’s easier to demonstrate solar ovens and camp out than it is to surrender your everything for the future. It’s easier to sacrifice a bull than to sacrifice your will. Parenting is a reliable way to sacrifice one’s will and surrender the desire for appreciation and control. We talk about turning around poverty, but that takes good parenting to prevent, and goid parenting is not appreciated in secular culture and sonetimes not enough even in church cultures. Fathers get more applause for training for Iron Man competitions than for raising a good family.

Our culture doesn’t applaud the quiet sacrifices that actually are saving the world all the time. We avoid self-sacrifice at all costs, actually.

#9 Comment By La Lubu On July 11, 2013 @ 7:59 am

Friend, you are courageous to know that your life is not solely for your happiness.

I would agree that life is not “solely” for one’s own happiness. However, happiness is not a bad thing, and people are not horrible or selfish for wanting balance in their lives. It’s an artificial construct that there is a life of total sacrifice one one side, and a life of total hedonism on the other. Or to lift something off the other thread—why not let the dishes soak so you can spend time conversing with people you seldom get to see, and do the dishes later? Why does sacrifice have to be an all-or-nothing concept? Does sharing drudgery really erase one’s efforts—unless one is handling all the drudgery, right now, it isn’t sacrificial enough?

I don’t get that. Never have. “Gotta take the good with the bad.”

#10 Comment By Josh On July 11, 2013 @ 10:21 am

Wow, I read this re-post of Tish’s insight into living the ordinary life to the glory of God and smiled to myself. This morning I went back to see the comments and was slightly aghast by what I saw. By the end of the more than 50 comments I came to a sad understanding which actually flowed from a conversation I had with my wife this morning — perhaps inspired by what I had read yesterday.

My wife and I were married after college. My wife is much smarter than me and is certainly more driven to succeed. She is a woman of faith that is talented and intelligent and finds fulfillment in using her god-given talents. When we had a baby and she put her personal ambitions on hold “until the kids were in school”.

Our second child was diagnosed with a genetic disease and requires much more care than an ordinary child. My wife is now not only a stay at home mom, but also “nurse by necessity.” She loves her family and her children dearly, but loathes the fact that she is unable to do the things that are fulfilling to her. She serves her family, often without gratitude, unceasingly. This isn’t what she wants to be doing and has been know to ask God why he blessed her with talents, but put her in a situation where she is unable to use them.

I am sure that “this too shall pass” and that one day she will look back on this and see some good in it. Today, tomorrow, and the foreseeable future is a path of mundane service in which holiness is hard to find.

I appreciate Tish’s post, beautifully articulating that void which many mothers endure. I hope those that can’t sympathize with her sentiments, can at least acknowledge that it is a difficult time when you are forced to serve in an unfulfilling role with a glad heart.

Rather than feeling compassion, the ruling sentiment seems to be along the lines of: “If you don’t like your lot in life, change it.” That “Take the Reins” mentality isn’t Christian, and sometime the hardest thing to do is to accept when God has placed you as the place you need to be. We are still figuring that you and seeking holiness in the mundane.

[NFR: Yes. Thank you for this. — RD]

#11 Comment By La Lubu On July 11, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

That “Take the Reins” mentality isn’t Christian, and sometime the hardest thing to do is to accept when God has placed you as the place you need to be.

And what if the place you are isn’t where you need to be? What if the “lack” of choice or options is artificial? Or, merely a human-created “lack”? Or a lack of imagination? What if a little bit of “give” on the part of others abates the need for one human being to self-sacrifice to his or her detriment, and thereby creates the much-needed balance for all to prosper?

I’m Pagan, and my spiritual view on the “good life” is modeled after a healthy, functioning ecosystem—which requires balance: all parts working to and for the benefit of the whole; with the whole enriching all parts. The system gravitates towards equilibrium. Where there is imbalance, that imbalance negatively affects the whole; if the imbalance is not corrected, the system ceases to thrive (or even function at all).

So, seen in that light, I have to question why it is seen as preferable for one person in a family to self-sacrifice to the point of detriment, in order for others to not have to sacrifice anywhere near as much. Isn’t it better for others to pitch in? Isn’t that easier, let alone more sustainable?

It’s not just that I don’t have the same spiritual outlook though; my life experience has demonstrated that most problems people deal with are human-created and human-solvable. It’s not a matter of God (or Goddess), or fate, or sometimes even circumstance—it’s a matter of finding the available adjustment for that balance; finding the lever that shifts the circumstance. Rare are the circumstances that aren’t changeable. “Either/or” choices are commonly solvable by “both/and” thinking.

#12 Comment By Josh On July 11, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

First off, my typo bothered me as soon as I clicked post. The content is unchanged, but this was what I meant to write:
“That “Take the Reins” mentality isn’t Christian, and sometime the hardest thing to do is to accept where God has placed you as the place you need to be. We are still figuring that out and seeking holiness in the mundane.”

My response would be to say that anyone that has never found themselves in a situation where there is a lack of choice or options you should know that they have lived a charmed and blessed life. Sometimes there are no “good” alternatives and being a responsible adult means you have to do things that stifle your creativity and do not feed your passions. It sucks, but it is life.

Granted, there are things that can be done to lessen the burden. But the burden remains. I am not advocating lying down and giving up, but I am acknowledging that the viewpoint of Tish is helpful for those that are in a situation where they are not currently able to pursue more exciting and fulfilling endeavors.

Tish could certainly “take the reins” and find ways to do more exciting things. I am certain that she will. But there will be periods where the mundane is your lot. Finding peace during those times is helpful, because always escaping from the mundane is not an admirable trait.

#13 Comment By La Lubu On July 11, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

My response would be to say that anyone that has never found themselves in a situation where there is a lack of choice or options you should know that they have lived a charmed and blessed life. Sometimes there are no “good” alternatives and being a responsible adult means you have to do things that stifle your creativity and do not feed your passions. It sucks, but it is life.

Josh, neither I nor most of the people I know intimately have led anything near a “charmed and blessed life” of minor-to-no struggle. I’ve literally had people tell me I need to write my life story, but I don’t really want to revisit all the “thrills and spills” (sometimes, I’ll jokingly say that my life was a “made-for-Lifetime-TV-special”). Trust, I know what it takes to endure the kind of challenges that most people gasp at, or think quietly to themselves “damn, am I glad that’s not me”. I don’t say that to brag, because it’s nothing to brag about—it’s the common experience where I’m from. It’s endemic.

And what I’ve learned from those experiences (both personal and observed) is this: when the chips are down, that’s when you are in most need of keeping to the things that give you life. That’s when you need—more than ever—your creativity and passion, no matter how you have to get it in where you can fit it in. People that don’t have a means to hang on to themselves in times of crisis are highly likely to collapse. Nervous breakdown, clinical depression, addiction, various forms of self-destruction, even suicide. If staying sane and keeping oneself together for the sake of others is important, then one must make room for taking care of one’s self. It’s like the instructions given to passengers on an airplane—first, get the oxygen mask on yourself; you can’t help others if you can’t breathe.

Not that any of that is relevant to Tish. She isn’t in crisis mode; she seems to be in boredom mode—choosing an either/or life when she could just as easily choose a both/and life. I’m sure she has her reasons. I’m just pointing out that for the average person (like Tish), it is completely unnecessary to choose an either/or life. People currently in crisis-mode may more more limited options, but even they (we—not in it now, but yeah…been there, done that) have to hang on to something that feeds their life. Not something that everyone lectures them about, saying it “should” feed their life or “should” be enough; something that actually brings them joy, actively nurtures their soul, gives them the second wind they’ll be needing for the long haul.

Having the good goes a long, long way towards enduring the bad. Balance is necessary.