Recapturing the Pioneer Spirit for Creation Care in the 21st Century

July 7, 2010


[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly reflections, called Deep Down Things, published on Wednesdays.]

by Tri Robinson

Each morning I have the habit of rising early and feeding all of the animals while a pot of coffee brews in the kitchen. By the time I get back to the house the coffee is freshly perked and the fire is crackling in the soapstone fireplace, bringing the house back to a warm temperature. Then I sit in my chair drinking a cup or two of coffee, waiting for the morning’s light to gradually illuminate Squaw Butte on the distant western horizon. During this quiet time I am listening for the Lord’s voice in hopes of receiving direction for the approaching day. This has been my routine for as long as I can remember, and I have grown to deeply value not only the peace it brings, but the inspiration and clarity for decisions I must make and actions I must take to tackle the challenges the new day will bring.

Tile depicting a covered wagon

The pioneer spirit is re-emerging in sustainable homesteading today. (Image courtesy Tri Robinson)

As I sit there in the early morning darkness, the fire’s reflection illuminates a series of hand-sculptured tiles inlayed across the hearth. They are tiles my parents had created by a local artist, Dean Estes, for me and my wife Nancy. Dean is not only a gifted sculptor, but also a long-time family friend who took nearly a year to lovingly sculpture nine wax blocks with images taken from a series of black-and-white illustrations. These came from a book my dad had written that tells the story of our family’s westward journey by wagon train in the 1800’s. Dean transformed the wax sculptures into individualized clay tiles that he carefully glazed and fired. Each tile represents a significant event that occurred on the long and difficult passage across the Great Plains and over the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Seeing these images every morning provides me with a reminder of my roots and heritage. They give me courage during seasons when my life becomes overwhelming. Thinking about what those early pioneers willingly chose to do somehow grounds me as a person living in the 21st century—a time when everything feels uncomfortably uncertain. They challenge me to remember the pioneer spirit and strong values that motivated my early family to risk everything for the sake of a free and wholesome life. They urge me to embrace those values and that spirit for myself.

More and more people are looking for the homesteading life that Nancy and I sought as we developed the Timber Butte Ranch

Tile depicting a wagon train.

Pioneers demonstrated courage and faith, which are both necessary for living environmentally responsible lives today. (Image courtesy Tri Robinson)

sustainable farmstead where we now live. The word sustainability has emerged in recent years to describe a desire to regain the pioneer spirit. It speaks of breaking away from the confines and the feelings of vulnerability when living a day-to-day existence that is literally at the mercy of an uncertain social system. Modern-day homesteading (which can take place in the country or the city) is an effort to produce healthier food, drink better water, use renewable energy sources and experience the freedom to raise our families with righteous values for the sake of better and more meaningful lives. The Apostle Paul said, as he concluded his letter to the Philippians, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about these things.” [Phil 4:8] Although he didn’t say it, I think Paul would agree that we shouldn’t just think about such things, but must have the courage to pursue them as well.

Looking back at my heritage gives me the courage and motivation to break away from status quo. It causes me to strive to recapture the values that must have driven those early pioneers to rethink and restart their lives outside the confines of a social system that no longer focused on what was true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. They longed for a new way of life and a new beginning, and they were willing to sacrifice to achieve it. When we lose sight of our heritage it can cause us to flounder and lose our way. Looking to the past can help us regain purpose for a preferred and better future. Even the bad things of the past can be used to launch us into a better and more fruitful future.

The old adage, “history repeats itself,” generally holds a negative connotation. It is true, many times the child of an alcoholic can become an alcoholic or an abusive person has often been abused, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Our negative past can help us strive towards a positive future. It is all about looking back and learning not only from the valor of those who went before us, but from their mistakes as well. History will only repeat itself if we ignore and deny the past, refusing to make courageous choices to turn away from the bad so that we might cling to the good. It is for this very reason that Nancy and I have dedicated our lives to Christ. Making these kinds of life-changing choices is nothing short of miraculous—it’s something that only God can do. He came to forgive what needed forgiving from our past so we might live in freedom from habits, hurts, and the painful memories that paralyze. What he does is real and tangible, and for this reason faith was a key value for our pioneer ancestors. Regaining that pioneer spirit and the values that accompanied it: this fosters hope for the challenges we face in the 21st century.

Tri Robinson is the founding pastor of the Vineyard Boise Church in Boise, ID and author of Saving God’s Green Earth and Small Footprint, Big Handprint. He and his wife, Nancy, live on a homestead that is almost fully sustainable. He blogs about his adventures there at, where this article originally appeared.

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