The new blog Suburban Resistance points to this promising beginning of a new series on suburban homesteading–the idea of becoming more self-sufficient in some ways but (I’d suggest) ultimately makes us more aware of our interdependencies on nature and God for what sustains us. I’ve always been into this concept but have never had the time or resources to follow through.
As a youngster in suburbia, our family had a huge garden where we grew all sorts of veggies: swiss chard, broccoli, cucumbers, squash, green beans, etc. Being from rural stock my folks were into organic gardening back in the 70’s and 80’s despite having the opposite political views one normally associates with such things. I spent a lot of time with the venerable Back to Basics (ours was the first edition) which left home when I did… Back then I decided that when I grew up I’d have chickens, goats (for milk, cheese, wool, and meat), bees, and a fishpond along with my garden and greenhouse. I was also a wanna-be herbalist. The closest I’ve come so far is a clutch of container gardens where M and I have farmed
tomatoes, peppers, and herbs in our various rented apartments and homes.
Part of this tendency in me comes from nurture—I was raised with it; it’s just what you do. Another part comes from American individualism—a desire to be entirely self-sufficient. As I’ve grown up and have acquired a more grounded sense of things, I’ve realized that the desire for self-sufficiency is an illusion and may even approach the level of delusion. I’ve now come to the place where I see this activities as moving back into a place where we begin to recognize and integrate ourselves with the mysteries of incarnate reality: the cycles of the sunrise and set, the cycles of the seasons, the cycles of wet and drought. If anything, return to a more intimate connection with our food sources helps us realize how utterly dependent we are on others for our survival. Other people, communities, creation and its Creator.
In the Rule, Benedict points towards sufficiency almost as a by-product of the redeeming value of manual labor. He prefers when the monastics grow their own food, noting that labor of the hands joins them with the apostles and the fathers, making them “truly monks” (RB 48.8). It’s interesting to read ch. 41 from the perspective of one used to electric lights: the focus on the rhythms of the sun reminds us of how alienated we are from the natural cycles by our technology. Too, it’s worth noting the kinds of food Benedict assumes to be available in ch. 39: bread, fruit and vegetables when in season, and not four-footed animals.
My wandering mind reminds me of just how much space John Cassian allots to discussions of gluttony. Certainly he considers it a problem for monks as a full stomach leads to an increase of libido, but issues of food, food cultivation, and consumption were necessary parts of considering the spiritual life for these authors. And, for him, these topics are also linked to issues of possessions, envy, and theft. (Stories of biscuit-stealing seem to abound in certain chapters…) But when was the last time you heard anything on gluttony recently? And yet that is, as I see it, part of what the suburban homesteading movement is about: curtailing consumption, of processed and factory-farmed food, yes, but also of the cycles of gluttonous consumption which our society glorifies.
So–I’m interested in a variant of this movement that does not seek to cut itself off from others in a drive for sufficiency, but to recognize the cycles within which we exist–the healthy, the unhealthy, and those good cycles that have been altered or perverted from what they ought to be. Peak oil may be a reality in our lifetime—or not. I clearly lack the scientific chops to weigh the various arguments about human-driven climate change especially as they are repeated and distorted y various outlets. But what I can do is recognize sound theological calls for prudence, temperance, moderation, and respect for the creation within which we exist and concerning which we are stewards.