The chance to be human: homesteading while working full time.

Phil and I realized as soon as we moved here last year that whenever we weren’t at work, at church, or at a family function, we would be working hard around here to create the kind of small homestead we envisioned.  Still, I’ve sort of had a hard time conceptualizing exactly what we are doing; we’re sort of feeling our way along as we go.  But total self-sufficiency isn’t likely and we don’t intend to be actual farmers, and we both work full-time (though luckily I have summers off), so what’s the end goal?

Recently in The Christian-Agrarian Work Ethic, Herrick Kimball (The Deliberate Agrarian) quoted Willis D. Nutting‘s essay The Better Life, which is part of a book of essays entitled The Rural Solution: Modern Catholic Voices on Going “Back to the Land”:

“The opportunity for real, soul-satisfying work, so rare in our day, is found abundantly in rural living. Here a man can make long-range plans and can carry them out without exploiting his fellow man; for the things that he uses are things that exist to be used: soil, plants, animals, building materials, etc. he can live a whole life of work without once using another man as a mere means for carrying out his plans. And neither does he become a tool of someone else. With the materials at hand he can employ the splendid coordination of mind and hand to create something of value for his family. He can fulfill his real nature in real work. And this work is much more joyful than any mere recreation. As a matter of fact this work carries with it its own recreation, so that the man who works does not have to worry about how he is going to have his good times. The work itself is a good time even though it be hard […]

Around me live several men who are “homesteaders.” They work in town or in school and live in the country. They spend long hours in the evenings working on their land. Their companions on the job or at school go to the movies or play poker in the evenings, but these men work at home. Their companions spend money; they save it. And when you talk with these men you come to realize that their interest, their real life, is in what they do at home. On the job they carry out someone else’s plans. That is drudgery. But at home they are their own masters. They are exercising their autonomy which is necessary to human dignity. These few hours of autonomy constitute for them their real life. Their rural homes give them their one chance to be human.”

Mr. Kimball explains (highlighting mine):

Willis Nutting’s essay does not imply that everyone should be a farmer, or that one need be a farmer to experience the human fulfillment found in agrarian work. He himself was an educator and, according to his biography, lived an agrarian lifestyle. His essay speaks of men working their industrial-world jobs for the necessary income and then, instead of pursuing industrial-world amusements, recreations or leisure in their spare time, they pursue productive, creative work on their homesteads.

Perfect. Without being able to put it into word, this is what Phil and I have both felt.  We work for money in the outside world, and though we like our respective occupations well enough, our real joy is in the countless hours of hard manual labor we put in around here sinking fence posts, building raised garden beds, weeding, mulching, learning about forestry, felling trees, learning to hunt and fish and then clean and cook what we hunt, refinishing or building things we need or want, building the chicken yard and coop (stay tuned for The Thirys and Their Poultry, Part II next spring, when we will hopefully have better success than last year’s attempt), and on and on.

Will we ever be self-sufficient here?  Doubtful.  We’ll certainly try to raise as much of our own food as possible.  And we’d like to add a word burning stove in addition to the fireplace so we can use some of the dead trees on our land as a source of heating fuel.  But what we’re really doing here, as Mr. Nutting put it so well, is seizing our chance to be human as God made us to be.

If that kind of thing interests you, too, then I can point you in the direction of others who are like me (us), who work in the outside world but then retreat to our homesteads where the the work is hard but deeply satisfying.  Here are just a few:

Feel free to mention other blogs if you know of any similar ones.

Also, I just learned about Steward Culture Magazine, a free online magazine which…

“seeks to promote Bible-based stewardship agriculture. This simply means we advocate for creation-friendly thinking that emphasizes the fact that we don’t own the Earth or even some small piece of it. Creation is simply a gift given to humans who are commanded to be its stewards as God’s representatives.”)

Domination is not destruction.

The earth was given to Man to dominate:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”Genesis 1:26-28)

A quote from this interview with Kelly Ware, a permaculture practitioner and Christian, caught my attention:

“We were put on earth as stewards, to take care of the garden, and our domination thing, that we’re able to, you know, dominate is that we make the choices for things.  We say this plant goes, this plant stays, this earth works needs to happen.  So I really think that in terms of empowering ourselves to do earth works, because you’re changing a lot of things, but we’ve been given that right, to dominate and through that job that we were designed to do, which is steward creation.

According to Merriam Webster, domination means:

  1. supremacy or preeminence over another
  2. exercise of mastery or ruling power
  3. exercise of preponderant, governing, or controlling influence

Notice one thing that the word dominate does not mean: destroy.

Many conservatives seem to believe that domination and destruction are synonymous.  Ann Coulter writes:

The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man’s dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use.  God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet — it’s yours. That’s our job: drilling, mining and stripping.

Is this truly what God says in the Bible?  Let us check:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

It is Man’s job to dominate and subdue the earth not by raping and destroying it but rather by working and keeping it.  The reason for working and keeping the earth isn’t because the earth is an object worthy of spiritual adoration, as environmentalists and some permaculture practitioners believe, but rather because God gave it to us for sustenance and human flourishing:

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. (Genesis 1:29)

Environmentalists, who are nearly all liberals, frequently fantasize about the elimination of humans from the earth due to the mistaken belief that the earth would be “better off” without us.  They see Man’s domination of the earth as inherently sinful (I use the word sinful to describe their religious-like beliefs because liberalism is their religion and is as authoritarian in its moral prescriptions as any other religion or political orientation).

Some secular permaculturists share the opinion that Man’s domination of the earth is Bad, bad, bad! but others do not, as this quote demonstrates:

Societies and their inhabitant are the reason that ecosystems (such as the Amazon Rainforest) are abundant in bio-diversity and life. In Permaculture it is constantly reinforced that human disturbance leads to environmental degradation; however, new evidence strongly concludes that without human disturbance, eco-systems would not be as thriving if humans were out of the picture.

In addition to the earth, Woman was also given to be under Man’s dominion:

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

Women, kindly read that verse again.  For whom were we created?  For him.  And to whom were we given?

And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:22)

Woman was given to Man to be under his dominion, not so that he can destroy her but so that he can cultivate a helper for his work of having dominion over the earth. This is where feminists, like environmentalists, get it wrong. They correctly perceive that some men are using their God-given dominion to destroy rather than cultivate their women, and they decide that Man’s domination itself is the problem, when in fact sin (destruction) is the problem.

We moderns see the word domination used in the man/woman context almost solely in the sense of sexually perverse role plays, but this is not what Christians should understand it to mean, not even when the context is the marital act.  Rather, the godly husband takes dominion over his wife and cultivates her to better fulfill her role as his helper in his domination (cultivation) of the earth.

Pastor Doug Wilson explained this well in something he wrote a few years ago:

A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.  This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

People lost their minds when he wrote this, with Christian feminist Rachel Held Evans writing:

It’s not about sex. It’s not about church leadership. It’s not about roles. It’s not about the Bible.

It’s about power.

It’s about whether or not patriarchy—man’s rule over woman—really represents God’s ideal for the world. 

And I believe, with every bone in my body, that patriarchy is a result of sin. I believe that followers of Jesus are to be champions of equality, and that it is our calling…

But a man conquering a woman does not implicitly mean he destroys her.  A man who conquers his wife in the sense that Pastor Wilson means is cultivating a family.  His dominion leads to flourishing rather than destruction.

Although it is pagan in spiritual orientation, I love the blog Bealtine Cottage, a site written by a woman in Ireland who bought a derelict cottage on some old agricultural land that was badly damaged by conventional farming practices and transformed it using permaculture gardening techniques into a gorgeous food forest.  Her stories and photos are fascinating.  However, the authoress Ms.O’Neill has misunderstood what domination of the earth and Woman by Man means.  She writes:

“As this era of masculine dominance comes to an end and a feminine understanding of life’s wholeness is included, we are beginning to experience a different world in which physical, mental, and spiritual well-being are interdependent.”

A limited and patriarchal interpretation of the Creator, has given us a male figure, with the female as subservient.

Dominance of Nature and continuous war has ensued…

It is clear from the Bible that God gave the earth and Woman to Man not to destroy but rather to cultivate, as we saw in Genesis 2:15.  It isn’t that male domination destroys the earth or women; it is that after the fall, men sometimes use their God-given right to dominate the earth for destructive purposes, rather than using their domination of the earth and their women to cultivate a flourishing garden and thriving families.  The solution isn’t to reject the order of creation that God intended, that of loving domination by Man, but rather for men to teach one another (something women absolutely cannot do) to use their God-given right of dominion to cultivate rather than destroy and then insist that it be so.

Part of the chaff of modernity is the belief that humans having dominion (domination) over the earth and Man having dominion (domination) over Woman is inherently destructive.  This is not true.  Only sinful behavior is destructive.  Godly dominion does not destroy; rather, it cultivates so that all which is under dominion flourishes.