catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 2 :: 2012.01.20 — 2012.02.02



Star Thistle, Jim Hill Mustard, White Tops,
Chinese Lettuce, Pepper Grass.
The names of things
bring them

Robert Sund in Bunch Grass

I recently edited a collection of essays in which one scientist cited a surprising statistic: that fewer than half of the species on earth have been officially catalogued.  Turns out the task that was given to us human beings at the beginning of everything was more than just an afternoon’s hard work for the first Adam. 

Many of us profess to believe that the task of naming was given to humanity as a whole, and yet today, we tend to think of naming as the realm of scientists.  I myself don’t know the scientific names of most of the organisms I come into contact with each day or have the background to know whether something has already been catalogued and where it would fit if it hasn’t.  However, I don’t think the assignment of scientific categories was the only kind of naming God had in mind, if I can be so bold as to guess such a thing.  I think it’s something we’re all called to do, which requires living close to our places. 

In my layperson’s experience, naming has been a natural response to the familiarity of living closer to a place, including its creatures and landforms and systems.  I know the name of the river I can see from the back windows of our apartment.  I named the fair trade store my husband and I helped found.  When it became clear that she’d be sticking around, we named a cat who showed up in our yard all shaved and emaciated and affectionate.  And beyond what first comes to mind as a name in the proper noun sense, saying hello to the crickets in our garden or sharing the recipes we improvise are ways of being in our place in a relational way.  There’s something faithful-feeling about it all, familiar and familial.

In our case, our efforts to live closer to our place, which is a small, rural town, has required figuring out how to live with less—with less money, but also with fewer cultural goods handed to us, like a big farmer’s market, great restaurants and an array of artistic events.  We pulled out of a shared full-time position with benefits that we commuted to each week to focus on local volunteer projects that are dear to us, while sustaining ourselves through freelance writing and design.  We also consolidated debt into a personal loan that cut our monthly expenses in half.  Though certain aspects of living with less, like not knowing where the money will come from next month, can lead to more anxiety, it also means more time at home, more spontaneous dinner parties, more flexibility, more joy and perhaps eventually, more trust.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the privilege that allows us to downshift toward true abundance in this way.  We have the skills, education and network to find paying projects as needed.  We have secure housing and food sources.  Putting “less” in perspective, to be part of the global 1%, an individual has to make just $34,000.  Even on this scale, I don’t fall into the 1%, but I’m equipped with all of the tools I would need to choose to be there, unlike most of the world’s population (the global middle class lives on just $1,225 per year).

Some might say it’s ungrateful not to take advantage of such privilege, but for us, it’s our halting, flawed attempt at practicing what we preach about the upside down Kingdom.  As we resist consumerism’s attempts to define who we are by what we buy, God’s economy redefines things like value, abundance, wealth, “enough.”  It even redefines vocation and kinship as we seek to embody our role as Namers of Things — things that hide in the cracks of the retaining wall or the fertile soil of a rich cultural imagination, things that get blurred beyond recognition at the speed of the daily commute up the ladder of success.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus