Lost and Found: the Servant Class


Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 9.48.21 AMDid you tune into Downton Abbey last night? The Gibsons sure did! Patrick and I are hooked and have been since this summer. We originally thought the entire series would be like a never-ending Pride and Prejudice, but instead, we found an entire world full of great characters and interesting plot lines—with a whole lot of history thrown in.

What is it about this show that so fascinates us? If it's not the beautiful videography, landscape, and the architecture of Highclere Castle (pictured above courtesy of Wikipedia)—perhaps its the structure of a society so foreign to us—this world of servants and aristocrats. 

The world of the aristocrats seems glamorous, glittering and nearly perfect. But then we see the problems of money, jealousy, infidelity, and boredom set in and fracture the relationships within the Crawley family.

The world of the servants seems oppressive, dark, and at times undignified. But then we see servants who take pride in their work and their role in the larger story—and I wonder, would I have that same attitude if I were in their shoes?

With images of Mary's impeccable wedding gown and snippy Dowager Countess comments still roaming through my brain, I sat down this morning and opened up Eugene Peterson's book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Ironically, the chapter I'm reading is titled, "Service." Here's what I read this morning:

Power breeds oppressionTrue, we have, in Western countries, abolished the institutionalized forms of slavery and all but eliminated a servant class, but the experience of servitude is still among us and as oppressive as ever. Freedom is on everyone's lips. Freedom is announced and celebrated. But not many feel or act free.

Evidence? We live in a nation of complainers and a society of addicts. everywhere we turn we hear complaints: I can't spend my money the way I want; I can't be myself; I'm under the control of others all the time. And everywhere we meet the addicts—addictions to alcohol and drugs, to compulsive work habits and to obsessive consumption. We trade masters; we stay enslaved. 

The Christian is a person who recognizes that our real problem is not in achieving freedom but in learning service under a better Master. The Christian realizes that every relationship that excludes God becomes oppressive.

The class structures of Europe, India, and yes, even modern America are wholly oppressive, not because the position of being a servant is inherently degrading, but because the relationships so often exclude God.

But when we get rid of class structures, and continue to exclude God, we are no better off. We are no freer than in the age of slavery.

Perhaps what I'm so attracted to in Downton Abbey is this small microcosm of what life could look like as a servant—cared for within the house of a lord.

What if my life looked like that today? What if I committed myself to be a servant to the Lord, rather than trying to build my own kingdom—my own Downton—all around? Would it bring me more freedom?

I think, by God, it would.