G.K. Chesterton wrote a book many years ago titled What’s Wrong with the World, and in large part, many of the things that were wrong then are still wrong today…exceptionally wrong and perhaps worse. But what made and makes Uncle Gilbert’s writing stand the test of time is that he is not just a harbinger of bad news like some gloomy, giant Eeyore – or perhaps that’s unfair to Eeyore. No, Chesterton provides perspective that moves the heart and mind and gut.
Here’s a statement from “The Wildness of Domesticity” in that book about what’s so wrong:
Some experience of modern movements of the sort called ‘advanced’ has led me to the conviction that they generally repose upon some experience peculiar to the rich.
For example, he talks of “free love.” What child of the 1960’s hasn’t heard of that? But apparently it wasn’t a new idea as Chesterton was already deriding it in 1912. Free love, says Chesterton, is only possible for the man with leisure enough to motor from woman to woman, which suggests having the income to keep up his vehicle, as well as the means to wine and dine all those women. Free love as a reality is possible usually only for the rich. “The omnibus conductor,” write Chesterton, “has hardly time to love his own wife, let alone other people’s wives.”
But wonderfully Uncle Gilbert goes on to show how it is that the partnership of a marriage, the supposedly dour existence that is up for so much debate these days, that this partnership is really a wild adventure that provides the man and the woman with way more freedom than the marauding womanizer of the ‘60s. We know this instinctively, or at least we do if we’ve ever lived a profligate life.
I remember a part of an interview with a celebrity wherein he was recounting his days while attending a university in New Orleans. He spent his time there chasing the dream of free love, a dream only possible once facilitated with excessive amounts of alcohol. After a time, the young man could do nothing but wish to be saved from his own stupidity. No matter how much he tried to avoid it, he found himself at the bars on Monday night, shackled to the life of sin.
In the household, however, man and woman are truly free:
For the truth is, that to the moderately poor the home is the only place of liberty. Nay, it is the only place of anarchy. It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. Everywhere else he goes he must accept the strict rules of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter. He can eat his meals on the floor in his own house if he likes. I often do it myself; it gives a curious, childish, poetic, picnic feeling.
We love the indoor picnic in my house, and it is a wonderfully curious thing. Like the Spanish tapas tradition, eating bits of food here and there in great variety while sipping on something cheap and white and crisply-cool while surrounded by your family – well this is a bit of heaven.
If you haven’t done so, please do try, for the home provides that entelechy of total freedom to be and do what you will within the all-important parameters of love. This is, in point of fact, why social justice starts in the home. Authentic love is the limit and the ubiquitous fuel for every great act imaginable…and some unimaginable.
As I’ve written before, it is no small point that the Fathers of Vatican II insisted on starting with marriage and family when in Gaudium et spes they discussed the mission of the Church to the Modern World. It is the fundamental cell of society because it reflects the raw, relational truth of the human person, a truth that points us back to God. In the wildness of the domestic hearth we can engage in the glorious beauty of spousal love one moment and meditate on the scourging of Christ the next. I can teach the children about the importance of sharing here and instill in them a healthy urge towards spiritual maximalism there. In the home I can play the twitter-pated prince for my daughter and stand in for a batting instructor for my son. The world is one’s oyster in the home. The family provides the freest of societies.
Nevertheless, the world’s temptations can smother domestic bliss through the drudgery of libertine excesses. One ought to note that Chesterton qualifies all by saying, “to the moderately poor.” Wealth and leisure can deceive us into believing that we are somehow freer to be ourselves if we have the means to create choice after choice, option after option. Shall it be Cancun this year or Southern Spain?
Our nation’s current economic woes ought to demonstrate how dangerous this is. Freedom means buying when we don’t have the money, owning when we don’t have a place for it, acquiring everything even if it means sending us into debt…oh so much debt.
The antidote to the current debt crisis in Washington, and to the personal crises in our lives that drive us to fear-filled activity is the wildness of the home. We have a men’s conference here in Omaha this Saturday and I hope the men get some sense of this. The home is for wild hearts. Be men, and be wildly passionate about loving… and maybe try having a picnic in your living room every once in a while. It does wonders for the soul.