Not to long ago, Thomas Kimble, a co-worker and self proclaimed Baptist invited me to his home for lunch. I had never been there before, but he was always describing it along with all the improvements he had did or was planning on doing to it, and shared boastful pictures of how great it looked now that he fixed it up. The home seemed normal from the outside, when I came to lunch that day—much as it had looked in the pictures he had shown me.. It looked well kept.
The roof, windows and paint all seemed to be new; the lawn and flowerbed were bright and inviting. Then I went inside. I was appalled at the mere sight of the inside from the moment that Thomas cheerfully opened the door and welcomed me to his home with a firm handshake. I realized that sometimes people run short on time and don’t have time to clean—that’s all perfectly understandable—but Thomas’s house was…uncalled for. The carpet, which had to have been installed sometime before Nixon was elected into office, was stained in several places; there was a hole in one of the walls big enough to stick my head into; the dinning room table was covered with dirty dishes, and the couch was missing a cushion. And worse was the smell of mildew that hit you like a gush of wind when you entered the house.
Then Thomas spoke. I expected him to say something along the lines of, “You know how I told you I had no kids? I lied. I actually have fourteen of them—fifteen if you count the ape that frequently visits the place.” But instead he said, completely unashamed of his lifestyle, “Welcome to my humble home.”
I didn’t speak for several seconds, being still stunned by the overt crudeness of the home. I felt embarrassed for him. Had I known that this was the way he lived, I would have offered we eat at a restaurant. Then I remembered that he had offered this, and Thomas insisted that we go to this place to eat—he was proud of it for reason only insanity can explain. Finally I said, “This is…this is quite some home you have, Thomas.” He smiled widely, “It’s not much, but it gives us shelter.” He looked at the kitchen and smiled, “Well how about some lunch?”
I could hardly imagine where we might eat, but did my best to hide my astonishment. “I’m starved.”
Thomas’s lunch could have passed for something straight out of a gourmet restaurant. He said it had taken him all morning to make, and I believed him. The food on the plate looked like Thomas believed that serving food was a form of artwork. There was chicken glazed in a homemade orange marmalade sauce, a white custard, and assorted fruits; each were proportionally organized on the plate. I was surprised that someone would spend so much time on cooking and so little time keeping the house up. After seeing the house, I half expected to have barbeque rats for lunch.
Thomas led me outside after lunch to his patio, which seemed a haven for bird crap. The entire patio seemed to be a collection of unfinished projects: a half-finished rock pathway that stopped in the middle of dirt, weeds that went past my ankles, a half built firepit, a un-built swing set, a four foot hole in the middle of the yard, and two tree stumps with poles sticking out. It was not a pretty sight, but at least the mildew smell was gone.
As we ate, I heard the front door open and close and Thomas said in a tone that I think was supposed to impress me, “That must be the housecleaner?”
“The housecleaner?” I tried not to sound too surprised. I wanted to laugh and mockingly say, “My goodness, Thomas—what on Earth does the woman clean?”
“My wife just doesn’t have time to do it herself. We have a little deal, she can have a housecleaner once a week if I can have a gardener to mow the lawn.”
I watched the housecleaner curiously, trying to understand what her job tasks were. I watched as she dusted, moved the plates from the table to the sink, vacuumed, and wash the windows. I wondered if she knew it would take days to make a single dent in the house. I wanted badly for Thomas to say something about the disarray of the house. Something to say he at least acknowledged it and felt some remorse that he had let it get this out of hand. Instead he did the complete opposite. He bragged about it. “It’s funny,” Thomas explained, “I used to be a complete neat freak until I became a Baptist.”
“Is that so?” He nodded.
“After I became a member, a friend of mine—another Baptist—told me at a little get together we had at our house that him and his wife had been in a Bible study and someone read off a verse that proved Christians didn’t have to clean.”
“Where does it say it?”
“I don’t know, but a few weeks later my pastor quoted it as well. I think he most have been quoting from Jesus.”
“And it’s in the Bible?”
“Honest to God it is—I’m sure it must be a gospel.”
“Really.” I wasn’t a Bible scholar, but I thought my four years studying comparative religion had prepared me for at least some of the insanity that religion tends to throw out. This was complete news to me. I suppose I didn’t really care if it was Biblical or not. If he said it was, then it must be. It sounded like it could be, and he probably knew more about the stuff then me, so I left it at that.
Mom has always been a neat freak. If company was coming over, then not only did the living room and kitchen have to be cleared, but also the bedrooms, the garage, and the attic. There would always be the evil glance if the bed wasn’t made five minutes before the company was slated to arrive.
I was always a little disappoint that the company didn’t inspect the bedrooms and garage or even the attic. All the hard work for nothing.
Mom is a Christian, and I always imagined that part of the reason the house was always so neat was because this is what a good Christian wife was supposed to do. Growing up most of my friends were not Christian and I always wrongly assumed had I had a Christian friend their house would be neat, and had I ventured into the attic it would be neat also. I was wrong—dead wrong. I became ever more curious about the interior design of Christian homes when I left Thomas’s house.
I began making a point of making conversation with Christians, and making excuses to visit their homes. “You have a patio room? I’ve been considering putting one in my home for quite sometime—I don’t suppose you’d let me take a peak?” “You had a new kitchen countertop put in? I don’t suppose you’d let me come over and see it’s fine craftsmanship?” “You had your bathroom redone? I just have to see it—how’s Thursday at 3:00 sound?”
Some Christians I knew had Bible studies at their house, and I began attending just to get a look inside. There was Ron Heller, the Methodist, whose home was surprisingly well kept, but at closer look had more dust than a house in the Sahara that had just had a sandstorm come in the front door and leave the back. His wife, Sue, walked around the house with watery eyes and a stuffed up nose complaining about how her “allergies had been so bad lately.” The thought of the collected dust as a reason for this didn’t seem to cross her mind. There was Linda and Larry Henderson, the Greek Orthodox couple, who decorated every square inch of their walls with file cabinets, bookcases, chairs and plants. I was pretty certain that their walls were painted a pastel color, but this fact could not be verified, as their walls could only be seen in one or two places. There was Christine Tyler, who went to a non-denominational church twice a week, who seemed confused about colors. Two of the walls in the living room were different colors; the bathroom wall was bright purple, and the bedroom walls had had all the paint scraped off because she was “planning to paint it sometime next year.” Her carpet was no better; it was stained all over and in one place it had actually been lifted up and removed because, “I was thinking of putting in a new carpet, but then changed my mind.” And of course there was the Baptist, Thomas Kimble.
Baptist, I have learned, are the most untidy of them all. The common theme in most of these homes was the “unfinished project”—the spa in the bathroom that had been put in, but not had the plumbing installed to it; the whole in the ground that was dug out for a pond that had never been put in; the flowerbed with no flowers. The more homes I visited, the more I started to see trends—not just in Christian homes. It was more specific than that. Different denominations had different degrees of messiness. I got to the point were I could tell what denomination a person was by the mere disarray of their homes. Lutheran’s were pretty neat, but decorated their houses oddly. Episcopalians have lots of clutter; there homes tend to have papers spread out in very odd places (on top of fish tanks, in dog bowls, pretty much everywhere); they also had boxes, shelves, books, magazine, accompanying every spare place on the wall. It seemed the more evangelical a person was, the more messy their house became.
What has kept mom neat even though she remains Christian? I’ve wondered that quite a bit lately, and have come to only one conclusion: no one ever told mom she was allowed to be messy—it is Biblical. She’s one of those rare breeds that never quite fit in. She’s been to messy Christian homes in the past, but I don’t believe she ever put two and two together.