Discipleship is Household Work.
A Mountain Morning.
I greatly enjoy the writings of Wendell Berry, particularly his essays on farming, land use, and local culture. He has written numerous essays and books—both fiction and nonfiction—highlighting the necessity of small-scale, family farming…both its usefulness and necessity for local communities/economies.
Currently, I am sitting in a friend’s mountain home, overlooking a valley where mountains, fields, trees, various plants, and animals are all visible. The view from the porch reminds me of a painting that hangs in my study. As I stood on the porch early this morning watching the new morning’s light slip into the valley, I was greeted by the chirping of birds, the brisk breeze of the winter wind, and the sounds of an exuberant male turkey seeking his female companions for the day. And to add to the beauty of this morning, I was reading an essay from Berry entitled, “Sanitation and the Small Farm.” Riveting, yeah?
You can find more about this artist here.
Anyhow, Berry compellingly discusses the beauty of small-scale, family farming — not from a “glamorous” point of view, but from a practical, shaping of human life, point of view. He says this,
“That economy was in the truest sense democratic. Everybody could participate in it—even little children. An important source of instruction and pleasure to a child growing up on a farm was participation in the family economy. Children learned about the adult world by participating in it in a small way, by doing a little work and making a little money—a much more effective, because [its] pleasurable, and a much cheaper method than the present one of requiring the adult world to be learned in the abstract of school.”
A Family Economy.
Some may argue with Berry about the merits of private versus public education, but that’s not my point here. My point is to focus on the realities of family life that Berry highlights.
School is instructive; there is no doubt about this. But, as Berry notes, it is also abstract. It pulls a child out of their family environment and makes them focus solely on academic instruction for long hours each day. This is not condemn public education. I, myself, am a product of public schooling. But, if not careful, the public education model allows parents to "check out" of the educational process altogether. After all, “that's what the schools are for, right?”
But Berry highlights the essential nature of family life. Families produce economies. While the word “economy” can be used for all sorts of things, Berry is referring to what Webster’s calls, “the arrangement or mode of operation of something.”
Every single family has some sort of arrangement or mode of operating. Sometimes, parents do the hard work of deciding on that arrangement. They go to great lengths in decision making and prioritizing to ensure their family economy is achieving what they desire. But for many—increasingly it seems—family economy is just something that happens on the side, without any effort or oversight. Whatever forms, forms.
For some parents, it is important to them that their children are instilled with values, practices, disciplines, a certain form and method of education, a particular worldview, etc. And they work to achieve those things. They build the structure and function of their homes around achieving those desired ends. Money is managed with an eye toward those goals. Education (public or private) is managed toward those goals. Household chores, allowances, mealtimes, etc. become tools for achieving those goals. Vacations and outings serve to advance those goals. These kinds of parents practice small-scale family farming in order to achieve a good crop of maturity from and for their children.
But a different type of parenting has been on the rise over the last few generations. And I think Berry’s word “abstract” captures the heart of it. Increasingly, parents are “farming out” the work of parenting to other pseudo-parent figures. Education gets left to the school-system and its teachers. Worldview gets shaped and formed by the larger culture of social-media, peer-culture, and others. Personal discipline and family life gets replaced by an “always on the go” mentality. And, what is perhaps the biggest failure of this form of family economy, values and goals are not thought of, and thus, others get to set the agenda.
When we do not do the laborious work of the small-family economy, someone else is going to do it for us. We will either do the work of laying a foundation, determining goals, instilling discipline, etc. or someone else “in the abstract” will do it for us…perhaps, they will do it to us.
Here’s just one brief example of how someone in the “abstract” might be shaping our families. A recent study of how the different generations utilize social media found that 98% of Generation Z’ers (those born between 1997-2012) own a smartphone, and they spend more than 4 hours per day on various social media apps; and that does not account for daily time spent gaming.
Someone, somewhere, is cultivating values for these people via a phone screen.
Discipleship as Family-Farming.
In Deuteronomy 6, we find the God-given pattern for family economies; how they are to pattern themselves, along with the particular goals parents are to work for. Moses writes,
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Did you note those important foundational pieces that God lays down for family economies? Those first principles that should undergird and shape everything else?
The Lord is our God; and He is One God.
Our first duty as persons is to love Him above all else. He is to be the center of it all — heart, soul, mind, and strength.
And then we get the application of those first principles…
Teach them to our children.
Talk about the things of God, the commands of God, the priorities of God, the practices of God with our children. Make these things the economy of our homes.
Godliness is to be the heart and soul of the home; the family economy.
And not only that, Moses says that we should bind them to our bodies…they should adorn our ways of living.
Our beliefs, priorities, goals, decisions, etc. should all be coming from the truths of God.
Our homes should be economies of Godliness built on the Word of God.
Remember how Berry described the benefits of small-scale family farming? He said, “That economy was in the truest sense democratic. Everybody could participate in it—even little children.”
God has given us the perfect structure for family-discipleship: The home.
We must see the responsibility for cultivating the home according to God-given truth.
We must also see that when we don't, someone else will do that job for us…and the results might well be disastrous.
There is more to say here, but that’s enough for now.
Let’s be about the work of cultivating healthy, intentional, family economies