Year of Plenty (book review)
Craig Goodwin, who is a pastor and farmers’ market manager at his church, just might be a “voice crying out in the wilderness” – a John the Baptist of sorts, preparing the way for the LORD in a land of materialism run-amok and idolatrous consumerism. Although I’m sure he had no intention of bearing such a role, his family experiment serves as a sign-post to those of us who also feel GOD’s call to exit a life of unquestioning allegiance to ‘the pursuit of happiness’ – in exchange for the radical pursuit of Jesus and His kingdom of shalom.
Rooted in the suburban wilderness of American malls and SUVs- Goodwin and his family struck out, after a “post-Christmas funk” in 2008 (the same year of the global financial crisis), on a year-long journey armed with four rules to re-orient their lives beyond market forces, towards a reconciliation with the people and places that provide so much of the practical needs of their life- all in the context of pursuing a simpler life, and a more robust, whole-life Christian faith. The four rules that served as their guides were:
Local: “We decided to buy goods from local producers, manufacturers, or growers…We wanted to place value on things in a way that wasn’t based solely on their price, forming a new economy of consumable goods anchored in caring relationships with people we know…We agreed we would seek to do field trips to as many of these local producers as possible, meeting the people involved in bringing our goods to market, learning their way of life, their hopes and dreams and challenges…” (p.15)
Used: “We would buy used products, preferably from one household to another. Craigslist and eBay would be our new shopping malls. Second-hand stores and garage sales would take on a whole new significance… ” (p.15)
Homegrown: “We had been novice gardeners, cultivating a small patch in our backyard for a few years. For the first time we would look to our yard as potential cropland, and our harvest as an essential component of our health and well being…” (p.16)
Homemade: “Those things that weren’t available by other means, we would seek to make at home. We agreed to allow some flexibility in buying the raw materials necessary to make the finished product, but we would try to get them from local sources…” (p.16)
Thailand: “There was one major glitch in our newly emerging economy of local, used, homegrown, and homemade goods. The one food item we couldn’t stomach giving up was coffee…we soon settled on the idea of choosing an international location from which we could buy select items during our year, including coffee…Nancy lived in Thailand for two years after graduating from college, which was invaluable as we sought to learn about the region and the people who live there, the economies of their lives, and how our consumption would impact them in positive and negative ways.” (p.16-17)
Year of Plenty is an insightful, profound yet humorous narrative that provides a refreshing perspective on the intersection between Christian faith and issues of economy, environment, community, consumption, justice and sustainability. He quotes Wendell Berry often which serves somewhat to reveal how Berry’s writings have deeply informed their entire paradigm-shift and the means by which they chose a new way to live out their Christian faith. Early on in the book he quotes from Berry’s 1977 classic The Unsettling of America:
“I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that GOD loves the world…I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with GOD. I believe that health is wholeness. For many years I have returned again and again to the work of the English agriculturist Sir Albert Howard who said, in The Soil and Health, that “the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man [is] one great subject”"
This is not a book filled with abstract theory, eco-apocalypse predictions or trendy environmentalism. It is a true story of one family wrestling with what it means to re-integrate life and faith. It is an honest, embodied call to rouse yourself from the spiritual slumber of the American middle-class way of life (even beyond the often self-seeking idea of “Going Green”)- to stop living out of your identity as a self-entitled American Consumer, to start living like a human again, humbly rooted in GOD’s creation. More importantly this book is a call to live faithfully as a follower of Jesus- to be converted not just in a dualistic way (where we split the material and the spiritual)- but practically and in ordinary ways to together live out a whole-life faith.
The Goodwins are one family among many in this mass exodus born of the Spirit of GOD towards a more missional, intentional and incarnational life. But this very well could be the seminal text that connects the dots for suburban families who are ready to more deeply explore Christian faithfulness and sustainable living amidst the McMansions of main street.
Follow Craig Goodwin at the Year of Plenty blog.
(Editor’s Note- Disclosure: Sustainable Traditions receives free review books including the book reviewed above. SustainableTraditions.com is an independent website free to express opinions and reviews unhindered by any contractual requirements to any publishers or organizations.)