What is Freedom? Thoughts from Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace

“The lady of the light holds the torch of freedom

the lady of the light holds the torch of freedom

the lady of the light holds the torch of freedom

freedom for you and me.”

This is the song coming from my daughter’s room.  I love her patriotism, but tonight with all the headlines of the day spinning in my head I am wondering, what does freedom really mean?


The lady of the light holds the torch of freedomthe lady of the light holds the torch of freedomthe lady of the light holds the torch of freedomfreedom for you and me.


When I was in medical school I spent a month in Uganda serving the Batwa Pygmies. They were an impoverished people, their babies died of malnutrition, their women died in child birth, their men were consumed with alcohol.


But it had not always been this way.  The Pygmies share a story like our own Native Americans and native cultures all over the world.  As a nomadic people they had survived successfully for centuries.


In the early 90’s their hunting ground was deemed a sanctuary for the Mountain Gorilla.  The Batwa were relocated into settlements where they faced a lifestyle that was unknown to them.  They didn’t know agriculture, they didn’t understand commerce.  All that had been valuable and functional to them suddenly became worthless.  They were displaced by only a few miles yet they were strangers to their land. And while they remained free under the terms of the law they were as captive as if they had been put in jail.


We are reading Wendell Berry in our reading group and he addresses this idea,


“Amid the outcries for the liberation of this group or that, we will know that no person is free except in the freedom of other persons, and that man’s only real freedom is to know and faithfully, occupy his place.”


Freedom it seems, isn’t an idea that can stand alone, it always asks, freedom from what? and then freedom to what? unto what end? Recognizing that every gain in freedom always requires a sacrifice of the freedom of another.


At our formation, freedom in the  USA  meant that the British let go of their control over us.


The same freedom that lets me speak my mind without danger also requires  that I have no control of the billboard outside my neighborhood flaunting a large breasted woman who is daily recommending an augmentation to myself and my daughter.


I am free to own and control my property but it requires that my neighbors respect my ownership, and restrict themselves from using my land for their own purposes.


The Mountain Gorilla are free to roam without danger of being hunted because the Batwa have given up their lands.


So how do we decide which freedoms are worth protecting and upholding? Who is the judge of which freedoms have a greater net benefit than harm?


In the US today it seems we are set on granting freedoms without direction. We battle any and every standard for the sake of  “freedom” as defined as  individual self expression.


From Berry,

“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard for our behavior toward the world . . . We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us.


Berry points to traditional cultures like the Batwa, as teachers. Not that they are an especially holy people, nor are they free from the universal desire for self preservation and the temptation to exploit others for their own means.  But what they had (though have now lost) is  a deep cultural heritage, one that taught each person his place among others and in the world.  One that placed restrictions in order to live in a more purposeful and sustainable way.


“We still have not, in any meaningful way, arrived in America. And in spite of our great reservoir of facts and methods, in comparison to the deep earthly wisdom of established peoples we still know but little.”


Yet as Christians we have a unique heritage to guide us, a history that teaches us, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. . .” We understand that we are only free as we pursue freedoms that draw us to bear more accurately the image of God.  Any freedom that pulls us from God leads only to the brokenness and captivity of our own souls.


Tonight I am every so grateful to be in a country that grants me so many freedoms, one that stands up for the freedoms for others around the world. But if we continue to be a country that stands for freedom alone without asking unto what end, we will also grant ourselves the freedom to destroy ourselves.

“The lady of the light holds the torch of freedom

the lady of the light holds the torch of freedom

the lady of the light holds the torch of freedom

freedom for you and me.”



Thanks for being here, I’d love to hear your thoughts.




This post is part of a series of reflections on The Art of The Commonplace. For more Liturgy of Life, subscribe or follow on facebook. To learn more about our reading group, click here, or check out our facebook group. We would love to have you read and ponder along with us.


Eating in Innocence This morning's thoughts on violence and hope

Eating in innocence, thoughts on hope and violence, liturgy of life. liturgyoflife.com


The world hasn’t changed to my daughter who blows bubbles in her milk and chews her buttery toast this morning.  Violence across the ocean means nothing to her.


She doesn’t know that we live in a dangerous world.  I could tell her, in fact I have told her, but she doesn’t understand.


She can’t fathom genocide, persecution or slavery.  She doesn’t know that while our biggest upset of the day is being late to preschool there are kids, just like her, begging for food, going to bed hungry, or that the very shoes on her feet were likely made by one of these kids, who instead playing lives in a factory and spends her days working with callused hands.   She hasn’t realized that if we had been born on the other side of the ocean our family would be a target simply by living the life we live, praying our prayers,  making the sign of the cross over our chests before dinner.  I can’t explain to her that even here there are no guarantees, that life changes fast and that security can disappear in a night.


She knows  affection,  peace, and help.  And the world she knows is also a true.  She is safe, she is loved, violence is not likely to come near.   She is surrounded with others who will protect her.  Life is beautiful, this world is hers to discover.


I’ll be honest, though I’m ashamed of it.  I gave in to fear.  Last night I sat up in bed trembling with fright.


It has only recently dawned on me how much my world feels falsely stable.  That simply because I have grown up in time and place with little violence it does not mean that violence has disappeared.  Stability can only be found in a moment.  If we look at every nation, overtime we see patterns of war and exploitation.  I shudder realizing that there are ever more places in the world where at this moment my life would be in danger for wearing around my neck the cross I was given at as a baby at my baptism.


My faith isn’t strong enough to  quiet my trembling.


I wish I had reason to believe that I will be spared the suffering that wrecks havoc on the world but I can’t find one that gives me assurance.   I hope for an end to violence, for an everlasting stability, yet I see that to expect this, in the light of the history of the world, is madness.


I am afraid.  Not so much for my own life but for my daughter’s, for the decisions she will have to make and for those choices she will never be allowed to have.


My only hope is that God loved the world enough to come and live with us, to suffer and die with us.  That He is alive and will restore all things.  If I am wrong I have nothing yet if I forsake Him I live without hope.


This morning we spread our butter on our toast with heavy hearts longing for justice.  And we pray to a God that hears us for a hope in Paris, in the middle east and for all the kids in the world who eat in innocence this morning.
Thanks for reading friends,




To learn more about Liturgy of Life click here, or join us in our reading group, where we are currently reading, The Art of The Commonplace by Wendell Berry. Feel free to comment here or join in the discussion on facebook.

What is my place in the ecosystem? And Other Thoughts From the Composting Toilet

Do people have a place in the ecosystem? And other thoughts on composting toilets. Liturgy of Life. liturgyoflife.com


Walking out of the bathroom having just used a composting toilet for the first time I was hit with a question (and no it had nothing to do with stinky poo, in fact the composting toilet was an all around great experience).  It was a question that had been lurking for years in the back of my mind but had never surfaced. The question was a simple one,


“What is my place in the ecosystem?


Now I know I have an effect on the ecosystem, but what I began to wonder is do I fit into it? Is there a way I can live within the ecosystem of the earth, in harmony and balance?


On one hand it’s just a question, I’m not trying to get at some deep theological concept here, but then again I guess I sort of am.


You see I’ve always been awed by the natural world. I was an avid Girl Scout, my mom a science teacher, both my siblings studied forestry at the university level, last year my husband and I worked for a non-profit focused on caring for the environment, living in and caring for  creation resonates deeply with my history and my soul.  Even as a kid the destruction of the natural world concerned me. I remember in 4th grade, creating a display of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I made little clay animals and then dousing them with motor oil, brought it to school nearly in tears.


Yet all this time I saw man as separate from the natural world. The best we could do, it seemed, was to destroy the earth slowly, protecting and conserving as we could.  That we would destroy it though was a given.


My assumptions were consistent with what I saw around me.  Our economy is based on digging up the earth, using it to make a lot of stuff, most of it unnecessary, selling it as cheaply as possible, and then most of this stuff ends up in a landfill within a year or so in a form quite distant from its original state.  This is the work of our nation, without those factories and stores, people would not have jobs. Destroying forests, creating pollutants, declining species, these were all necessary evils. It seemed impossible for society to survive without diminishing the earth’s fertility, productivity, abundance and beauty for the next generation.


As a nation, we have never made an effort to align ourselves with the thoughts of Sir Albert Howard, a well known agriculturalist, who said, “the whole problem of health in soil, planet, animal and man (is) one great subject.”  Rather what man wants has been seen as its own problem.  We look to the earth to satisfy our desires.   Caring for the earth and the aftermath of our exploitation of it is a secondary issue.  Proper stewardship or finding a place in the ecosystem where both man and all other species thrive has never been our goal.


Using the composting toilet turned on a light bulb for me.  Though in many ways we are not living within healthy ecological boundaries, it doesn’t mean that these boundaries don’t exist. In fact it doesn’t mean that these boundaries aren’t God given and in our best interest.  From Wendell Berry,


” . . . it may be that our marriages, kinships, friendships, neighborhoods, and all our forms and acts of homemaking are the rites by which we solemnize and enact our union with the universe.  These ways are practical, proper, available to everybody, and they can provide for the safekeeping of the small acreages of the universe that have been entrusted to us.”


I wonder what life would look like if we each took seriously our responsibility to our place?  It may be that there are simple answers to the complex issues of our age if we ask the right questions and are willing to change our lives in order to find out.


Perhaps an ecologically sound lifestyle is not impossible?  Nomadic peoples and small rural communities have been growing and gathering food in a way that enriches the soil, using materials that are natural, that come from the earth and go back to it just like our bodies when we are born and die, without destruction for centuries.  And as a Christian my responsibility  to tend and cultivate the earth is described as part of the creation story.  If the whole earth was created, and if we, like every other creature have a role to play, then it ought to be possible to live  without destroying the very place that gives us life.


What if we took all that we have learned in the 21st century and instead of seeking the next biggest and strongest and fastest we put our energy into living well and finding our place?  As we shifted our focus perhaps we would work as Berry suggests to,


” summon the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.”


Who knew you could get to that after spending a few minutes on a composting toilet?


I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Thanks for being here,




This post is part of a series of reflections on The Art of The Commonplace. For more Liturgy of Life, subscribe or follow on facebook. To learn more about our reading group, click here, or check out our facebook group. We would love to have you read and ponder along with us.




On Locking Doors and Opening them Back Up Again

“Why do we lock the door Mama?” asks my daughter every time we leave the house.


I struggle with knowing what to say, “To keep us safe,” but safe from what?


“To protect our stuff,” but to protect it from whom?


How do I explain this without making it sound like we live in a dangerous place?


“We don’t trust our neighbors, I guess,” is the best I can do.


Because that is what it is? Isn’t it?


The truth is I don’t know my neighbors and I don’t know my neighborhood. I don’t trust them not to take my stuff or hurt me and I certainly don’t trust them to care if someone from outside the neighborhood is trying to take our stuff or hurt us. And so we lock our doors.


But locking doors only gets us so far.




Even those of us who try not to follow the news can’t escape the realities of violence in America.


My heart breaks for the families of the young lives lost in Oregon.


And Perhaps almost worse than the tragedy in these stories is that as a nation we have begun to grow numb to them.   For the most part the announcement of another shooting is heard like the score of last night’s basketball game.


“Another shooting?”


“How many died?’


We shake our heads and pray that the next one won’t be in our town, convince ourselves that it won’t and then move on.


What else can we do?  It feels uncontrollable.  And yet we know and that it is not going away.


.    .    .

We are reading Wendell Berry’s The Art of The Commonplace in our reading group right now.


“If we are looking for insurance against want and oppression, we will find it only in our neighbors’ prosperity and goodwill and beyond that, in the good health of our worldly places, our homelands. If we were sincerely looking for a place of safety, for real security and success, then we would begin to turn to our communities-and not the communities simply of our human neighbors, but also to the water, earth and air, the plants and animals, all the creatures with whom our local life is shared.”


When we are afraid our tendency is to put up barriers, taller fences, and bigger locks, or to hide, pull our kids of of public schools and move further out into the suburbs. We look to the government for reform in gun control and mental health. And certainly there is room for improvement in both.  But we forget that there is something  more we can do. Something simple, like walking next-door and introducing ourselves to our neighbor.


For a while I lived on a ranch outside of Leakey, Texas, a small town of 400 people. Here you did not only  greet every person you passed on the street, but even in your car, even on the highway, with every car you passed you gave a quick nod and a wave.  It was a way of saying, “I see you, I’m here for you, don’t think you are unnoticed.”  It showed me that a community where everyone is known to everyone else is not impossibility, in fact it has always existed.  This kind of community has no place for a  for a sketchy car parked in front of the house, for questionable activities going on in someones’ basement, for remaining a stranger or for anonymity.


Being there made me wonder, what would it look like if I lived in a place as if I intended to stay for the rest of my life? If I intended that my children and grandchildren would stay in that very place? Would I care for the land differently, would I commit to being part of our city’s development?  Rather than locking my doors, would I begin throwing them open, realizing that my only hope for safety comes from knowing the people around me and letting them know me too?




This post is part of a series of reflections on The Art of The Commonplace. For more Liturgy of Life, subscribe or follow on facebook. To learn more about our reading group, click here, or check out our facebook group. We would love to have you read and ponder along with us.


Thanks for being here,