“To make public protests against an evil, and yet live dependent
on and in support of a way of life that is the source of the evil, is
an obvious contradiction and a dangerous one. If one disagrees
with the nomadism and violence of our society, then one is under
an obligation to take up some permanent dwelling place and
cultivate the possibility of peace and harmlessness in it. If one
deplores the destructiveness and wastefulness of the economy,
then one is under an obligation to live as far out on the margin
of the economy as one is able: to be as economically independent
of exploitative industries, to learn to need less, to waste less, to
make things last, to give up meaningless luxuries, to understand and resist the language of salesmen and public relations experts, to see through attractive packages, to refuse to purchase fashion or glamour or prestige. If one feels endangered by meaninglessness, then one is under an obligation to refuse meaningless pleasures and to resist meaningless work, and to give up the moral comfort and the excuses of the mentality of specialization.”
~ Wendell Berry “The Long Legged House: Essays”
Remembering, Re-imagining and Returning Home
Welcome home or to the start of your return home. Hopefully you will join me for the full trek because I believe our homes, and the home economies that support them, will offer us comfort in the years ahead. I believe we are facing hard times and that finding a softer, kinder, more resilient way of confronting them will be necessary if we are to hold onto our hears. The negative results of our economic policies are picking up speed and we are seeing the breakdown all around us. Which is why creating homes and lives that are somewhat buffeted from the storm will be important to our emotional, spiritual and economic resiliency. At least that’s how I see it; otherwise, I would not have bothered to write this book. Others seem more willing to believe that a “local” economy will keep the reach and demands of the global economy at bay. Some imagine what is needed are a few new rules, taxes and incentives and that using the market place to put a price on carbon or to invest in alternative energy will create new jobs and a healthier environment. Some say it is Wall Street, moneyed interests in politics and crony capitalism that is the problem while others posit it is capitalism itself that has muddied the waters of a civil society and suggest a wholesale systems change. Though I applaud and agree with many of these efforts, my own tact is to focus on how creating a home economy can offer solutions that are not only strategic and life affirming but within reach of our own hands and hearts.
If I look toward the personal home economy as a means for a better life its because the
systems, requirements and consequences of today’s global economy (and all markets
are global now despite what you think) are simply too large and unwieldy to hem in.
They are too powerful or too powerfully backed by those who have too long ignored the
issues that face so many of us. We are up against a cost of living that is making life
ever more difficult. Just as it is confronting our urban lives it is challenging our farmers
who, like us, are facing the challenges of ever increasing land costs and ever
decreasing wages. That I write and live by the principles of “householding” and now
home economics is because faith would be hard to summon otherwise.
Having said that however, creating a home economy alone will not turn the world right.
It is an adolescent yearning to think anyone can make the world safe from the swings
and arrows of nature or human folly or that “Home” will ever give us the full shelter from
the storm we imagine. So where A Householder’s Guide to the Universe was a love
song and early imagining of a life restored to wonder, Remembering, Re-imaging and
Returning Home takes a more sober look. It takes a look at place making in a world of
the placeless since few of us live where we were born. Most of us are transplants,
immigrants and transients following opportunity, careers or hope. This transience has
not only impacted our sense of place but our economic, emotional and spiritual lives. All
these things must be considered if we are to Remember, Re-imagine and Return home
in an honest and respectful way.
On the matter of spirituality however, I’ll admit a certain flush in discovering that
Returning Home, (a title I picked out of my secular mind), is often referred to within a
spiritual context. One returns home to a truer sense of self or connection to the source.
One returns home to the sacred values that sustains life. That the phrase “returning
home” could be interpreted in a spiritual context could have been a serendipitous
discovery but in the end I think I was given insight into what a return home might mean
or require. Though nothing is more subjective then our faith systems, I will say that the
requirements of this life — frugality for one – could not so easily be endured were it not
for a certain spiritual foundation. At least that has been my experience.
In the end, to write of a return home was to unwind a million narratives. Even now I fall
hopelessly short of understanding all that will challenge us. But what I do know is that
our relationship to home is ancient and primal. What I know is that it is woven within the
history of land and labor — by whom and for whom. It is informed by gender, race,
caste, class, poverty and privilege. It is marked by the workings of the marketplace as
trade brought empire and empire brought conquest and displacement. It is marked by
science, industry and technology. It has been defined by religious and territorial
imperatives and/or arrogance. But most significantly, or at least not to be
underestimated, it has been marked by human nature — our virtues and vices; greed vs.
gratitude, hubris vs. humility, love, loyalty and commitment to people and place versus
things that lure us beyond. We are inheritors of a patch-quilt legacy that has informed
not only the world without but the world within.
It is through these varying and mystifying lenses that I write. From the practical to the
spiritual, from the historical to the personal: from charts, essays and reflections to the
tools for self reflection, Returning Home hopes to elevate not only our understanding of
home economics but its capacity to restore our lives and the life of the planet and the
people who live on it. That, at least, is my very lofty goal.