Digging in Deeper: Ephesians 5:22,25

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. . . .Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

I’m a terrible bowler. I enjoy it. But I’m terrible at it. On occasion I’ve been to the lanes, gotten into a real rhythm, and done reasonably well. More often than not, though, I would do better keeping score by tracking the number of gutter balls I throw. Plus, bowling alleys are almost always seedy-looking places that smell like feet (the same goes with skating rinks, but that’s another story). Sure, there are more and more “entertainment zones” in the mold of Dave and Busters popping up which invariably include bowling lanes, and those are pretty nice, but for some reason stand-alone bowling alleys always seem dumpy. A network comedy about a professional bowler, then, doesn’t really seem like it would be one to catch my eye. Yet after four episodes, I can’t get enough. Let’s talk this morning about CBS’ latest sitcom offering, How We Roll.

How We Roll tells the incredible story of real professional bowler, Tom Smallwood, whose rags-to-riches tale is just the kind of thing an ESPN 30 for 30 will be made about eventually. Smallwood was a talented bowler who flirted with becoming a full-time professional, but never quite made it. Instead of pursuing his dream that wasn’t quite panning out as successfully as he needed it to in order to support his family, he chose to set that dream to the side and prioritize his family. Several years later, then, after working on the assembly line for General Motors, he takes another run at it, and everything falls into place more neatly than Hollywood could have written it.

The show itself has so far been outstanding as far as I’m concerned. As I’ve looked at what various media critics have written, they mostly knock for its lack of edginess. The whole thing is too sweet and nice for their tastes. Yet, so far, the comedy has been clean, the acting on point, the production values high, and the storyline one fun adventure after another. It’s almost like the major media producers in the country are starting to realize that there is actually an audience for clean, uplifting, family-friendly fare that isn’t so agenda-driven by one woke value or another that you can’t really enjoy it (looking at you, Disney). Another great example of this is the Netflix drama, Rescued by Ruby, another based-on-a-true-story tale which is very much worth your time.

There are three points of the show that have really caught my attention and earned my loyal viewership. The first is Tom’s character itself. I don’t know much of anything about the actual man, but I suspect they aren’t playing up his kindness and genuineness much. Tom is not presented as anything like what our culture might define as a “man’s man.” The Christian faith hasn’t yet garnered even a mention in the series. But Tom reflects a godly manhood in more ways than one. He is faithful to his wife and son even to the point of being willing to give up his dream if it means providing for them like he should. He is conscientious at home, refusing to leave domestic duties to his wife. He’s not the kind of guy who is ever found sitting on the couch asking his wife for another beer. He is considerate to her needs and how hard she is working for him to pursue his dream, and is active in pursuing a relationship with her in spite of the challenges they are facing together.

He is also a kind and compassionate man. He is generous with his assumptions about others and gentle in his approach. In one episode, his coach tells him he needs to get tougher toward the other players, especially one who is giving him a relentlessly hard time. But he just can’t do it. He winds up giving his opponent a desperately needed listening ear as he works through the pain of his recent divorce. He loses the tournament, but comes away with a friend. In a culture in which manliness and masculinity are too often associated with all sorts of “toxic” characteristics, seeing a picture of a man demonstrating some of the manliness of Christ is a very good thing indeed.

The other two points that caught my attention are how Tom and his wife, Jen, relate to each other. In some of the most controversial words Paul ever wrote (at least, as far as our modern culture goes), he gave instructions for wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, and husbands instructions for loving their wives as Christ loved the church. I’ve talked about how to handle these commands elsewhere (here, here, here, here, and here). That’s not what I want to focus on right now. Instead, what we see in How We Roll is an example of their being put into practice.

Let’s start with Jen. In the pilot episode, Tom is struggling with whether or not to give pursuing his dream of becoming a professional bowler another go. By the midway point of the episode, he has decided that providing for his family is simply more important for him to be doing. He can continue bowling actively as a hobby, but his family comes first. Jen is appreciative of his passion for their family, and struggles with the thought of taking the giant leap of faith it would take to pursue being a bowler, but ultimately submits to her husband and urges him to go for it.

Think through what I just said carefully, because it may not all click into place. I called Jen’s actions toward Tom submissive. And yet, he never asked her to do that. In fact, he had decided to put his family first and go in the other direction. In pushing him to go for it anyway – even to the point of crunching the numbers to figure out how they could financially make it work – she was resisting his decision. How was this submission? Because she was putting him and his desires ahead of her own. She knew it was going to make things harder for a season, but she trusted in her husband (and specifically in his bowling skills) enough to encourage him to go for it all the same. She was not a submissive wife in the way the world normally imagines such a woman. She was not a pushover. She didn’t debase herself to lift him up. She was strong and decisive. She simply put her husband first. And she did that because he had demonstrated himself worthy of such trust and prioritization. There is much to appreciate here as a people committed to the Christian worldview.

Speaking of Tom’s earning her submissive posture, he did so by following Paul’s command for husbands. He loved his wife and son and constantly sought to put them first. One episode captures this intention on his part really well. Knowing the family’s financial struggles his pursuit of his bowling dream is causing, Tom is trying to find ways to earn some money. Specifically, he wants to get his hands on some extra money that will allow Jen to take a couple of days off work so she can spend time doing some of the traditional mom things she had been able to do before but can’t now because of all the extra hours she is working. His crusty bowling coach encourages him to hustle some unsuspecting bowlers out of some cash. In particular, there is a convention of telemarketers the writers paint as amoral conmen in their own right, who would be just perfect for the taking. If anybody deserves being scammed out of some money, it’s these guys.

In true sitcom fashion, Tom’s first attempt fails as he gets scammed by the scammers, but eventually he makes some money. As the dupes pay up, he glances back to his son who is hanging out at the bowling alley with him. As he later explains, he wants to be the kind of dad his son can positively look up to, not one who has to hide what he’s doing so he doesn’t learn the wrong lessons. As a result, he gives all the money back, and instead pawns his valuable baseball card collection. When his wife reacts with shock to his having done that, he explains that his family is more important than his baseball cards. In other words, he sacrificed something of great significance to put his wife first, and did it so that his son could be proud of his dad. What an example to follow!

Too often, we are told that being a man is about putting yourself and your needs first. It is about using your strengths to your own advantage and using the people around you to get what you want. It is about working to the place where other people are serving you and you don’t have to depend on anyone else. None of those are pictures of the manliness of Christ, though, but of the world. Those are the things that have given rise to the awful phrase “toxic masculinity.” We definitely don’t need more of that as a culture, but we could use a whole lot more Tom Smallwood.

How We Roll is most definitely a series I would recommend so far. Now, this doesn’t mean it isn’t going to suddenly make a hard left turn at some point in the series, but what I’ve seen so far has been wonderful. Come for the standard sitcom fare, stay for a picture of family and marriage that our world could use a whole lot more of.

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