For as long as I can remember, in nearly every situation, during every task I perform, stop and contemplate… “how did folks do this before our modern age of convenience?” And probably more to the point would be to ask, “how will WE do this AFTER our modern age of forgetfulness?” Most of the gadgets and miracles of modern comfort and convenience in our house are powered by either electricity and or natural gas, both piped in from some unknown location, and by what means, I fail to comprehend. What happens when those services become unaffordable and scarce? Or the units of energy ($) we use to trade for those services become “worth-less”? What about the food we eat? Yes, we have a small garden and a couple of chickens, but honestly, if we are cut off from our community food source, or if they are cut off from their national distributors, what then? What about the shoes on my feet? I suppose that’s not fair because I have worked as a shoemaker, but what about you? Do you even know someone who might have the faintest idea how to make, or even fix a pair of shoes? What about preserving the food we do have or manage to find? How about family, friends, community leaders, how will we contact them for support or to offer our help? We’ve become so accustomed to this mode of existence that we’ve forgotten, or are ignoring the fact that we are literally LIVING LIKE KINGS, propped on precarious thrones. Imagine for a moment, if you will, how folks lived for countless thousands of years before this most recent century. Except for the relatively few ruling elite, most people lived a very simple, but rich life, within culturally defined boundaries, with a limited number of resources and choices. We have become addicted to convenience and endless options, and we have forgotten how to live in right relation!
Before I go any further, I’d like to tell you that every morning I thank the gods for our hot water heater! Not to mention the apparatus of pipes, knobs and pumps that bring it to me when and where I need it. I am also very fond of our new gas oven from IKEA. Those of you still frustrating yourselves on an electric stove will know what I’m talking about. Although petrol prices are climbing steadily, it’s not too much of a stretch to drive our daughter to and from school a few times per week. And a little less than a year ago, my wife and I were approved for a home mortgage loan and are buying this old house we’ve lived in these past few years. I don’t say that we bought it, because in all truth, we didn’t. The bank did, and is selling it to us, one month at a time for the next 30 years, for more than twice what they paid for it!! I’m telling you these things because I don’t want you to think that I am some self righteous end-times survivalist zealot blowing my horn. I am just like you, a bundle of contradictions and contrary notions. The simple truth is that we are all living way beyond our means and the means of the Earth to sustain us, at least at our current and ever increasing number.
In this latest season of American political campaigning, I have heard a lot about the condition of our economy (Greek – Oikonomia –‘household management’), the high cost of living, driving, and eating, about how irresponsible borrowers and greedy lenders have nearly wrecked our system (i.e. illusion/delusion) of sustained perpetual economic growth and gain. And about how our once and future leaders promise and plan to get us out of this ditch and back on to the highway speeding along on our endless summer road trip, ignorant of the cliff drop we seem to be accelerating towards. They tell us they’ll get to the root of the problem and make sweeping reforms. I think we all know they won’t get to the root of anything. The best we can expect from them is a little support to enable our habits a bit longer. The only real change I can depend on is happening inside me right now.
Do it by hand. When I ask myself, “how did folks do this before?”…“By hand,” is usually the answer. From cooking over a fire, or in a hand-built stone oven, to cobbling a pair of boot soles back together; when you do it by hand your whole body gets involved. And not only that – a little bit of you is transferred into what you’re doing. Your thoughts, dreams, and intentions all get woven into your work. It’s what we’ve been doing for nearly forever, and it just feels right. Imagine being so intimate with all of your possessions and the world around you! Imagine yourself working everyday for the health and prosperity of your family and community. Doing sometimes hard but always fulfilling work, that directly supports those you love, instead of laboring in exchange for enough money to pay the bills. At the risk of sounding like that end-times survivalist zealot I tried so hard to convince you I am not, I’m gonna come right out and tell you that I believe our modern age of convenience is coming to an end (and none too soon!). There will, more than likely, not be one apocalyptic moment when the world stops and everything changes, grocery stores and sporting good shops emptied with Barbarian gangs roaming the streets. It really doesn’t matter how or when. The fact is, it simply can’t go on this way, and we both know it.
Our values need to inform our choices. We must take responsibility for ourselves and listen with our hearts. Neither you nor I need to be proficient at every skill or prepared for every inevitability. If we make time for even just one thing – maybe it’s working in the garden, learning to make cheese at home, a simple hand-sewing project, or catching a fish – it’ll make us a little less dependent, and maybe teach us about what it is to be human. It will enable us to slow down, so we don’t have to run foolishly off that cliff. And if we pass those skills on to our children, and share them with our community, then we are actually building a future we can trust…a change we can believe in.
Special guest editorial by Jasan H. Craban.