Reviewed by Sara Sterley
Flourish, Fall 2011
Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from Consumer Culture
By Shannon Hayes
Left to Write Press, 2010, 352 pages
The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose At Home & in the World
By Helen Lee
Moody Publishers, 2011, 244 pages
I’m a relatively new mom: our son turned two in July. Most of the time, I’m still wondering to myself how it is that we’re supposed to be responsible for this new little life, especially since he has actually started to develop opinions of his own as of late. My husband seems much more confident and capable than me thus far. In the midst of this uncertainty, I’ve also beenstruggling with how best to incorporate and find time for pursuing the justice-related passions that my husband and I were so involved with prior to becoming parents. Two recent books have challenged me to rethink some of my preconceived notions about motherhood, homemaking, and what it means to live out my mission in the here and now.
I read Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes over a weekend. Several of my favorite bloggers had recommended it, and I finally got my hands on a copy. I don’t want to be melodramatic, but the book really shook me up, in the best kind of way. Hayes articulated for me much of what I’ve been thinking and wrestling with in the back of my mind, but had yet to come to any coherent conclusions about. I’ve been pushing copies on everyone I know and working it into the most random of conversations.
Hayes has written several cookbooks focused on grass-fed meats and has become a nationally recognized
Hayes paints a picture for the reader of a third way–one in which the responsibilities associated with building and maintaining a loving and safe home are valued over an increased salary, more stuff, and a better title.
advocate of the grass-fed meat movement, if such a thing exists. As her popularity grew, she was increasingly asked to speak at conferences and events centered around more sustainable food choices. She realized that, while she had a firm grasp on the reasons why people should be willing to spend more on better food, none of that mattered if it she couldn’t convince people how to afford it. This realization led to this book, in which she collects stories of real people from around the country who she characterizes as “radical homemakers.” In collecting the stories that make up the book, she sought people who identified with the following: “If you have learned to live on less in order to take the time to nourish your family and the planet through home cooking, engaged citizenship, responsible consumption and creative living, whether you are male, female, or two people sharing the role, with or without children, full or part-time, please drop me a line and tell me your story.”
Her call garnered hundreds of responses, and she spent the next year traveling (often with her husband and two daughters) around the country to hear the stories of other radical homemakers.
Hayes spends the first half of the book persuading the reader as to why “reclaiming domesticity” is an honorable and necessary pursuit in modern America. In doing so, she delves deeply into the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s and its unforeseen consequences. Hayes analyzes the role of homemaking throughout history, arguing that, prior to the industrial revolution, husbands and wives evenly shared the roles related to taking care of the home. She convincingly argues against the consumerist, extractive culture of today. Hayes paints a picture for the reader of a third way–one in which the responsibilities associated with building and maintaining a loving and safe home are valued over an increased salary, more stuff, and a better title.
In the second half of the book, Hayes uses her own experiences in addition to the stories of the radical homemakers across the country to demonstrate how this third way is possible. She concludes that, “if that path is to be valid, then we cannot create it with a few hundred isolated believers scattered across the country. Our numbers must grow. We must join together, focusing our strategies on creating a world that is not only pleasurable, socially healthy and beautiful, but very, very possible.”
I voraciously devoured every sentence in Radical Homemakers, especially the first half of the book, underlining and jotting notes on nearly every page. I wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic about starting the other, related book that came across my desk, The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home and in the World. I have a bit of a bias against books and most other things targeted primarily at Christian women. In my admittedly limited experience with books of this nature, I tend to find the writing dummed-down and cheesy, for lack of a better word.
I was happily surprised to find that The Missional Mom didn’t fit my unfair stereotypes.
“[Missional motherhood] is about helping our children to recognize and play their God-composed songs and to understand how they are participating in the larger symphony He is conducting today.”
Helen Lee wrote The Missional Mom to mothers, specifically to remind us of the following: “You are a missionary, in whatever context God has placed you, with whatever gifts He has given you. Your mission is to be His witness and disciple-maker wherever you live and move and have your being. This mission does not change when you become a mother.”
Like Hayes, Lee uses everyday women’s stories to convince us of the worthiness of our efforts at building our homes and families. Her chapters describe characteristics of a missional mom: a cultural rebel, someone who loves “the least of these,” someone who creates culture, and more. Where Hayes is careful to avoid any hint of religion as a reason for pursuing more sustainable families and communities, Lee reminds the Christian reader of our higher purpose of following God and his calling at every step as the foundation for any of our efforts in this arena.
As a new mother, I found Lee’s description of missional motherhood especially poignant and exciting:
…we invest in our children to help them see the big picture, the greater purpose to which God is calling your sons and daughters. We strive to train our children with the purpose of preparing them to accept their own calling to be God’s missionaries in whatever way He intends…[Missional motherhood] is about helping our children to recognize and play their God-composed songs and to understand how they are participating in the larger symphony He is conducting today.
As I struggle with the similar conclusions presented in both of these books, I can’t help but think that the wrestling alone is a big part of the point–both of these two books and of kingdom living in 21st-century America. The willingness to engage in conversations and contemplate on our own about whether our family needs a second car or if we are called to live in a more diverse neighborhood or how we are to be transparent with our children about these struggles is a counter-cultural act in and of itself. Books like Radical Homemakers and The Missional Mom are necessary tools in our efforts to live more focused on the kingdom in the here and now, even if our here and now is spent dealing with the tantrums of a two-year-old. As Hayes so aptly concludes,
…at this point in history, the work to heal our ecological wounds, bring a balance of power into our economy and ensure social equity starts with our choices about what to eat, what to buy (or, more importantly, what not to buy), what to create, and how to use our time and money. Indeed the major work of society needs to happen inside our homes, putting the homemaker at the vanguard of social change.
Sara Sterley is an associate editor for Burnside Writers Collective and a frequent contributor to Englewood Review of Books and RELEVANT Magazine. She resides near Indianapolis with her hilarious husband, their son, and a pooch named Roxy. In her free time, Sara enjoys hanging out with her family, reading, dreaming about the coming kingdom, and doing pretty much anything that involves being outside.
This review originally appeared in The Englewood Review of Books.