In a famous movie called Shenandoah (1965), Jimmy Stewart’s character says grace before he and his family partake of a table heaped with food produced on their farm.
Lord, we cleared this land;
We plowed it, sowed it and harvested it.
We cooked the harvest.
It wouldn’t be here – we wouldn’t be eating it – if we hadn’t done it all ourselves.
We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel,
But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food we’re about to eat. Amen.
This prayer reminds me of the fierce pride I encountered amongst often-isolated immigrants to Canada. To be sure, neighbourliness and community actions were highly appreciated, but there seems to remain, even today, almost a cult of self-reliance.
“Be all you can be” and “there’s nothing you can’t do if you try hard enough” seem to be the active aphorisms for many people . . . and not just among those pioneers. Being independent (off the grid), doing whatever it takes to get the job of your choice, raising money for causes dear to you, and providing for your own seem to me to indicate that self-reliance and self-sufficiency constitute the ethos of many of us.
The illusion of self-sufficiency
I was recently alerted to the fact that many of my counter-cultural friends – young ones! – are not immune to the independent, pioneering mentality that puts self and family at the top of one’s bucket list.
My friend Kate Schat wrote recently that she had noticed, too, among homesteading types that self is highly vaunted but is an illusionary goal at best. Here’s what she wrote:
“[This week] I planted 2-3 flats of onions, started from seed by a friend of ours. When I did a live video for my insiders blog in February, of my seed stash and what I planned to seed, he watched it and then called me on the telephone: ‘I heard you can’t start your onions because of the activity of your wildcard rascal toddler and being pregnant. . . . I will come pick up your seeds and start them for you’ and he did. He babied those seedlings along in his house and greenhouse for months!
More and more I feel that self-sufficiency has nothing to do with turning into ourselves, but ‘community sufficiency’ [is what we should be striving for]. I don’t think we are meant to know how to do every. single. thing, or have the capacity to do it all either. I think it’s about learning all the skills you can, and then using those skills in bartering and trading. Like trading the skill of carpentry: fixing a barn and trading for hay. Childcare for graphic design help. Eggs for bread. Not just going for coffee but folding laundry or weeding the garden while you chat? Building friendship and community based on more than just talk, but accomplishing things together.”
Thanks be to God that, in a world in which individualism and self-reliance can become not just ideals but idols, a younger generation is promoting community as the God-intended state of human life.
Kate Schat and her husband Marius live in Quick, B.C. with their five children, hogs, chickens and a milk cow, where Kate makes cheese, butter and yogurt. Marius is famous for planting 400+ potatoes each May. They appreciate community help at potato-digging time. He also provides moose, deer and bear meat for the family and friends.
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