Heavy message, light touch

caple wife 372Allow me, in the midst of the Superman and Anglican news, to pop a quick post in here in which I shamelessly promote the work of a friend of mine -- William R. Mattox Jr. In addition to being a friend, he is a frequent speaker in the journalism program that I lead here at the Council For Christian Colleges and Universities. What else should I confess? Oh, he already owes me lunch. Most of the time, you will see Mattox's byline on the op-ed page of USA Today, where he is a member of the board of contributors. Let me stress that he is not a news writer. He writes opinion columns and has a special gift for mixing humor with actual research.

Mattox is a conservative and a Christian, but he does not (despite his last name) hit people over the head with his arguments. In short, he is part of the younger wave of evangelicals who is actually interested in having ordinary Americans read what he has to say. The alpha males with the fire-breathing fundraising letters should pay attention.

There is an interesting trend story hiding in there, by the way.

Did I just see the Rev. Rick "Purpose Driven" Warren on the cover of Newsweek with, gasp, Brad Pitt?

Anyway, Mattox has an essay in The Wall Street Journal that is a fine example of what he does. It's called "She Ain't Heavy, She's My Wife," and it focuses on the cultural and moral significance of the 11th annual World Championship of Wife-Carrying over in Finland. I kid you not.

In the wife-carrying competition, men physically transport their spouses over a grueling 831-foot obstacle course that includes log hurdles, hairpin curves, changing terrain, and a four-foot-deep pool of cold water. Husbands can haul their brides any way they wish -- piggyback, fireman's carry, over-the-transom style -- but they are severely penalized if they drop their wives at any point.

After everyone has finished the course, the husband with the fastest time wins an array of prizes, including -- get this -- the equivalent of his wife's weight in beer!

So what's the point? Is this a sermon about beer? No, Mattox believes that these fun games may offer insights into what people truly believe about gender, even in one of the most progressive cultures in the world. A few years ago, several couples were tossed out when the wives tried to carry the husbands.

... (It) is important to note that the World Championship of Wife-Carrying doesn't fit very neatly into the Western world's official framework for gender relations.

Over the past half-century, our official gender debate has often forced people to choose between gender equality and gender-specific roles. You could be against misogyny. Or against androgyny. But you couldn't be against both. At least not in the official debate. But in our private lives -- especially in those leisure pursuits that often (unconsciously) reveal our deepest hopes and aspirations -- I get the impression that most couples somewhat paradoxically want both gender equality and gender-specific roles.

I don't think you'll be hearing this kind of commentary on Focus on the Family anytime soon (especially the part about the beer). But our public debates would be healthier and a lot more fun if people learned a bit from Mattox's winsome approach to hot issues.

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