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Blog // Thoughts
April 10, 2006

Theology Of Household

During my time in Delhi, I’ve been reflecting a lot upon the New Testament writings concerning the organisation of households (the Kruse Kroncile has an excellent discussion of this). A fact of life for most ex-pats here (and for that matter, most middle class Indians, not to mention the uber-wealthy), is the presence of domestic […]

During my time in Delhi, I’ve been reflecting a lot upon the New Testament writings concerning the organisation of households (the Kruse Kroncile has an excellent discussion of this). A fact of life for most ex-pats here (and for that matter, most middle class Indians, not to mention the uber-wealthy), is the presence of domestic staff. The typical ex-pat here will have a cook, a maid, maybe an extra person to clean, a driver and a guard or two. Those who live on more spacious properties will often have a garderner (or more) and a second household cleaner is not that uncommon. We know families whose dmestic staff count exceeds 20.

Perhaps I’m letting a little secret out of the bag here; quite a lot of ex-pats seem to love the fact that being here means a small army of staff to help with daily life, a luxury they could never have dreamt of back home. I used to find it odd when I would hear people from the west say they had a better standard of life here than back home, but on this level I understand it.

To me, this situation feels like less of a advantage and more of a burden. It isn’t just those directly involved with the house, but also the regular contact with our garbage collector (a local guy, not a council service), as well as the electrician/plumber/handyman and the telephone line guy whom we see almost everyday. Here our household is big, dependent and all looking to me. As a consequence any sense of a “better life” is eroded by the responsibility and emotional grind.

This may seem very different to what most people in the west experience, but only because here the gaze is so direct and immediate. The fact is that for all of us, we have a circle of people whose work depends on our financial remuneration to support their family. For example, before we moved here we paid for the same range of services but they were not so directed connected to us. We still had a cleaner (albeit through an agency), we still outsourced the harder parts of the food requirements (through take-out, cafes, grocery delivery) we still relied ondry-cleaners, window-washers and so on.

The big difference is that in a developed country the patterns of commerce and service mask these economics of the household (moreso in the suburbs), whereas in a country like India they are revealed and directly experienced. The fact remains that the economics of the household, that is, the commercial relationships you sustain in order to live your daily life, are larger than just the family unit.

This matters because the New Testament is at least equally interested in the household in this sense as it is in the family unit (maybe more interested in the household). How we manage a household, how we bear witness to it, develop within it our mission, is a complex thing, made muddier by need and money. These relationships are not primarily bonds of love, neither are they level and balanced.

For me this raises a lot of questions I am not sure I can answer. It makes me ponder a lot of failures and inadequacies. That said, it is one insight I am thankful for, because without these years in India, I’m not sure I would see this issue as clearly (or painfully) as I do now.

[tags] Household, Expatriate, Theology [/tags]

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