Did I ever tell you about our house in Wichita? It was a beautiful, three-story, 1912 box colonial, with hardwood floors and the kind of molding that our nation has forgotten how to produce. The den had a fireplace of painted brick, a tin ceiling, and wood-paneled walls (1920-style, not 1970) with an etched and painted chair rail that matched a pattern painted on the edges of the polished floor. The master bedroom had a sitting room and a bathroom big enough to significantly lower the odds of divorce.
And space? Oh, the space! Five bedrooms, and a full, finished basement. It was embarrassing, the space we had. The doors were the thick heavy kind, built back when we still knew how to manufacture a good solid tree in this country. The wiring was outrageous, the venting antiquated, the foundation stronger than a preacher’s promise.
Our house had a detached garage in the back, and over that garage was a small apartment. The couple who bought it announced that they were going to put a handicapped relative back there. We took extra care making some needed repairs to its floor.
Fast-forward a year and a half. A young friend visited our old house, on the off-chance that the apartment might be available to rent. It turns out that it isn’t available, but not because someone is living in it. “My husband made it into his playroom,” the wife told her.
His playroom. They have one child and one big dog (which lives in the house with them, where it clatters across those beautiful floors). But the husband needs his own playroom.
I had dinner with three men Tuesday night, each of them wiser than I. The talk turned to leadership, and each of them had something wise to say about what he’s learned in this area. Eventually one of them looked at me and asked, “So, Tony, what have you learned about leadership?”
I confessed that I’ve learned I’m not very good at it. I’m adequate at work, but I fail in the places that matter most — in the world, in the church, most of all in my home. They nodded in commiseration. None of us is happy with his performance in these latter domains. The world cries out, I said, and so do our churches and our wives, for men who will lead, who will say “this is right, and that is wrong, and I will stand with what is right.”
But instead we remain silent when good is pronounced evil, and evil, good. We pray silently in those moments, or worse, we signal agreement lest we offend anyone. We slouch in the back of our churches when volunteers are needed, and ask the women to be God’s hands. Even in our own homes we expect our wives to raise the children and keep us on a good spiritual track.
The world cries out for leaders, and we build playrooms.
A passage of scripture that has always stuck with me is God’s first conversation with Moses. God told Moses that he would use him to deliver the people of Israel from Pharaoh’s rule. Moses replied by doubting God’s choice of messenger. Next he asked what he was supposed to tell people who questioned his authority. Then he asked what to do if the Egyptians wouldn’t listen. Then he tried to wiggle out of the task altogether by pointing out what a poor public speaker he was. Finally, Moses simply begged God to use somebody else: “Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever you will.”
Anybody, that is, but me. Isn’t that what we’ve grown accustomed to saying? Let somebody else lead. Let somebody else draw a line in the sand and declare to what is evil and destructive around us, “You will shall not pass.”
Lead, or build playrooms. Which will we choose?