I recently picked up a book called “Radical Homemakers,” by Shannon Hayes. It was a clarion call for a withdrawal from consumerism and America’s insatiable appetite for money.
Hayes uses the term “homemaker” in a broader sense, encompassing both a husband and wife who work together to make a home. She defines radical homemakers as “men and women who have chosen to make family, community, social justice and the health of the planet the governing principles of their lives.”
The book is a series of case studies with “radical” families who try to live as sustainably as possible. They openly shun consumerism, packaged items and big-box stores. They work nontraditional jobs so they can spend time with their families. They raise grass-fed beef, make their own soap, repair their own homes, and can jam and apple sauce for the winter.
Before I go on, I must say this: We Mormons are uneasy with the term “radical.” It makes us uncomfortable. We are already different enough, and we’ve spent a great deal of time trying to prove to the world that we are very normal.
But as I read this book, I was struck by the similarities between what we’re counseled to do in the church, and what these “radical” families are actually doing. In fact, I’ve witnessed this type of radical living in friends and families around me.
Picture this: a modest home in a less-than-wealthy part of town. In it lives a large LDS family. By worldly standards, there are way too many kids per square foot than should be permissible. The parents are highly educated but have modest incomes. In their free time, they stay busy, not running their kids to karate lessons, but helping the elderly neighbors next door and organizing community events. The kids have grown up with a modest number of toys and a great deal of unstructured, creative playtime. The family eats out of a large garden in the backyard. They don’t have a lot of material possessions and they don’t take a lot of fancy trips, but the kids are happy, well-educated and civic-minded, like their parents.
I can think of several “radical” LDS families who fit this description. I’m not sure if the choices they made were deliberate or if it was simply a part of who they were, but they learned to live in a radical way.
Why is this important, and why should we care?
Because by and large the “radical” homemaker movement has been a Godless one, and it’s time to change that. Somewhere along the way we decided as a collective culture that to be “off the grid” is to be educated, hippie and agnostic. And maybe living in a house made of recycled tires.
Inexplicably, we also decided that to be a religious American means making a lot of money (hearkening back to Calvinism, which stated we could glorify God through our earthly success), living in a big suburban house, caring very little about the outcome of the earth’s resources and giving our hearts to Walmart and the Chinese economy.
(And I need to interject that I am firmly ensconced in suburbia, I shop at Walmart occasionally and I certainly do more than I should to feed the Chinese economy. I open up this subject to provoke thought, not to posture myself as an example.)
Yet, if we look at what the general authorities have said at the last several conferences, it is this: Shun the riches of the world. Spend more time as a family. Slow down. Turn off the electronic devices. Serve your neighbor.
Our scriptures tell us to “eat fruit in the season thereof.” We’re counseled to grow a garden and keep a year’s supply of food. Sounds pretty sustainable to me.
The gospel teaches that our homes are equivalent to the temple in their ability to foster a sense of love and spiritual learning. This in itself is a radical statement. It means that outside the temple our home is the most powerful place on earth, and therefore the most important place for us to be. The consumer culture teaches us that fulfillment comes from eating out, shopping out, entertaining out, and, when we are home, “checking out” through various forms of media. The whole point of the “radical” movement is to bring us home, out of the stores, out of malls and away from a system that tells us what to buy and how it will make us happy. It encourages families to spend time with one another, creating instead of consuming.
The term radical means “drastic reform.” I think we can all agree that it’s time for such a movement in this country. There is an opportunity for us homemakers, and by that I mean both fathers and mothers, to be at the forefront of this change. It’s the type of radical we should be comfortable to embrace.
Part II in two weeks: The Radical Mormon Mother