A powerful reflection from Laura Emerson on intentional living – as individuals and congregations

About 15 years ago, my husband and I embarked on a radical shift in our lifestyle. We moved from a high-rise urban condo in Houston, TX to a 2 room log cabin in Alaska… with an outhouse. There was nothing in my background that prepared me for this rigorously, self-reliant lifestyle.  I was a mediocre Girl Scout.  I am still afraid of daddy long legs. 

Now, though, instead of weekly trips to the supermarket and restaurants, I raise and forage 65 foods.  We make most foods and cleaning supplies from scratch, such as dog treats, shampoo, home remedies, beer, wine and bread. 

Since we live so remotely, we receive none of the municipal utilities or services that I took for granted in a city.  To heat our home and tub, we cut 10 cords of firewood each year.  For water, we dug a well. 

How and why did we do this?

In the early 2000’s, we made the decision to live very intentionally. We were inspired by UU’s 7th Principle to deeply experience the interconnected web of life, and, of course, by the writings of Thoreau and Emerson, on which I delivered a number of sermons and Adult Ed classes at UU churches around the country.

We started simply, by asking ourselves what we valued.  What did we want to learn?  How did we want to live in better synchronicity with our values? This lead to decisions about how we wanted to utilize our time, space, and money, and prioritizing people we really valued. It was liberating to purge clothes we did not wear, books we would not read again, sports equipment gathering dust. We donated our TVs.  I got rid of many chemicals and small appliances and furniture.  We shed many time wasters.

Through this process, it was obvious that we could live in a much smaller home, with no debt.  When we got serious about moving to Alaska, I took courses in permaculture, master gardening, master naturalist, furniture building, herbalism, and ethnobotany. I climbed a STEEP learning curve to gain skills and knowledge.  Emotionally, I was equally challenged.  I was overwhelmed doing everything ourselves.  At first, I was intimidated by the silence, and the visitations of self-recrimination that bubbled up, without all the noise and entertainment of a city to keep them at bay.  

But over time, this intentionality changed me. As I gained competence and confidence, I developed a stronger sense of agency in my own life.  There is no one-upsmanship, or keeping up with Joneses or virtue signaling living like this.  I cut wood, tote water every day.  

Living very simply and self-reliantly has granted me the gifts of personal humility and awe of the strengths and generosity of Nature – food to eat, water to drink, wood to heat, as well as the lessons She teaches me .

Intentional living is not just for individuals- congregations can ask these questions too! Dear reader, I’m curious! Has your congregation – 

* Implemented permaculture or xeriscaping.  How much water did that save?

* Planted a community garden for the congregation or community.  What were the results?

* worked to ameliorate food deserts in cities, and heat islands?  For example, maybe your congregation volunteered to tear up an asphalt playground surface and replace it with turf or wood chips? Or start a community garden in another neighborhood?  Plant trees?  

*  Lowered your own dependence on fossil fuels in ways that others can implement, such as replacing plastic with wood or bamboo products or building or redesigning with zones so as to lower heating/cooling bills?

In both our individual lives or our congregations, we can find ways to implement the 7th Principle.

Laura Emerson welcomes your comments and questions through alaskauu1.blogspot.com.