Practicing shalom with a Swiffer

May 5, 2014 by

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On Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day this year, my kids did not see me in the illustrious career my father wanted for me, as a lawyer, or even my noble secondary choice of teacher. Instead I took them to help me with my Tuesday/Thursday gig of housekeeping for the sweetest, kindest young family.

I, their black mama, took them to the home of a white family. And for a moment I wondered if I was harming my children more than helping. Should they see me in such a menial role? What messages am I sending them about the world and their worth as bi-racial children? What does it say about my worth as a black woman?

In a culture where every little black girl looks up to Michelle Obama and every Thursday evening we’re blown-away by Olivia Pope, I wonder if I’m I throwing away the liberties afforded to me by the Civil Rights movement. Sometimes, I feel a deep, deep shame when I think about my choice to become a housekeeper.

I’m a black woman — we’ve evolved from this, haven’t we?

Deciding whether or not to bring my kids to work with me today, I questioned my rejection of my father’s carefully thought out plan and my lack of motivation to go to law school. That is, until I unlocked the door, surveyed the apartment, and realized there’s a subversive beauty to not just being a housekeeper, but a black housekeeper for a white family in Cambridge.

As my children worked beside me, I sensed a deeper purpose than teaching a strong work ethic. It felt like Jesus modeling servanthood at the Last Supper, strategically showing his disciples the greatest values of the Kingdom.

With every instruction to my children to thoughtfully care for a this family’s home as if our own, I told a new story on race and roles — as Jesus followers there is no Jew or Greek, there is no room for racism; we seek respect, and unity for all people.

As we gathered trash and wiped surfaces I showed my kids that sometimes love looks like sparkling Formica countertops and hard-boiled eggs.

With pictures of this lovely family surrounding us, I explained to them how the mama wanted to do all these things herself but she had to work outside the house, and it’s so exhausting to come home from working to do  more work. So their mama comes in to help.

Their mama comes in to help.

Yes, their mama is “the help” and when I weighed whether I should bring my kids to clean house with me today, my daddy’s goals for me flooded back, forcing me to parse through a miasma of shame. Conventional knowledge says I should be ashamed of myself, maybe even remorseful for not actualizing my potential, but in truth, I love being “the help.”

For two days a week I can simply love people outside my family with my hands. I get to extend grace over their messy and practice shalom with a Swiffer.

Some may say it’s degrading to get a to-do list of chores like a lazy child, but only if I let it. I only feel degraded by my choice to be a housekeeper when my pride makes me forget the teachings of Jesus, the wise Rabbi who strategically modeled the bedrock ethic of the kingdom: humility, hospitality, love.

After washing their feet he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Master’ and ‘Lord,’ and you do well to say it, for it is true. And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 

John 13:12-17

We don’t wash feet anymore. But Jesus says that in his Kingdom, “you ought to wash each other’s feet.” When I go to work as a black domestic, I get to embody this teaching by doing their least favorite chores. Twice a week I humble myself to the lowest position in their household’s structure. Twice a week I feel connected to my Servant King in a profound way.

This black woman is a housekeeper so that at least twice a week I’m moved to pray for a white family and come to terms with my own prejudice. It would be so easy for me to sit in my little apartment and hold a grudge against “the man.” But I’m a Jesus girl before I’m a black woman, so twice a week, I force myself to pray through my prejudices and watch them spiral away from my soul like soapy dishwater down the drain.

Today, I loved being a black domestic in front of my children because someday when they’re older and choosing their own careers I want them to remember their mama asked, “How can I love?” before she asked “How much does it pay?” Inviting my children to clean house with me was my way teaching them to find success in the kingdom’s economy of love. By practicing shalom with a Swiffer, I’m dusting away the shame of not achieving career success so that my children and I can walk down the path to blessing.

It’s subversive and strategic and so Jesus and this servant cannot be greater than her master.

Osheta Moore lives in Boston with her husband and three kids. She considers herself an Assembly-of-God-Methodist-Southern-Baptist-a-terian turned Anabaptist. She and her husband are planting a church in Boston, New City. This is an excerpt from a post on her blog, Shalom in the City.


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