I mentioned in a previous post that I had “a short list of writers who wrote about their bright ideas only after having lived them out,” and a reader reasonably asked if I would share the list. What follows isn’t comprehensive—I only keep the list as a set of mental notes, and had to search my memory to come up with these. But it’s a good start. (Also, I’m not saying these are the only such writings out there, only that they are examples I’ve found helpful.)
Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life by Jean Hay Bright. This is a fascinating story in its own right, about a couple who were thinking about homesteading and stumbled across Scott and Helen Nearing, who inexplicably offered to sell the couple a chunk of their Maine property (the other person they did that for was Eliot Coleman). The Nearings loom large in homesteading mythology (as does Coleman to a lesser extent), and the book is a warts-and-all look at their lives written by a close neighbor. Maybe more important, though, it is a detailed and honest account of the mixed results and ultimate failure of their own homesteading efforts. It is especially good at portraying how difficult the life is.
Your Money or Your Life, The Secular Squeeze, and Being Church by John Alexander. These books are the record of a life of reconsideration. They are a mixture of tested and untested ideas, but the untested ones are ideas Alexander was committed to living out, and the results are described in the later books. The final book, Being Church, was unfinished at the time of Alexander’s death, which is appropriate.
Grace Matters by Chris Rice. I love this one because it recounts the aftermath of untested good ideas written up in another book, very popular when first published, called More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel. Rice co-founded a very ambitious ministry devoted to racial reconciliation, together with Spencer Perkins, son of well-known civil rights leader John Perkins. The ministry showed lots of promise, which went mostly unrealized. Rice’s book gives a behind-the-scenes account of how the project unfolded and eventually disintegrated. I don’t think Rice understands why things fell apart—at least, his understanding is far different than mine—but he is very honest and thorough in laying out the facts, more than enough for the reader to ponder and reach his own conclusions. Interesting side note: John Alexander makes an appearance towards the end, as a counselor to Rice and Perkins.
Solving the Crisis in Homeschooling, by Reb Bradley. Who knew there was a crisis? You certainly weren’t hearing about it from speakers on the circuit. Until one finally finished up schooling three of his own, and then decided to write honestly about the experience and how it had unfolded differently than he thought it would:
As each of my three oldest children reached adulthood I was shocked to discover that they did not conform exactly to the values I had sought to give them. They had retained much of what I had given, but not everything. Instead of being perfect reflections of my training, they each turned out to be individuals who had their own values and opinions. I had wrongly thought them to be exactly like wet clay, me being the potter with total control over what they would become. I was not prepared for their individuality, nor was I ready to see them as fleshly beings. As I watched them each face off with the Lord and have their own struggles with the flesh, like I had when I was their age, my homeschool dreams crashed royally.
Ecclesiastical Megalomania (pdf), by David Chilton. A reconsideration of ecclesiastical authority, by someone who suffered at its hands.
Living Proof and Church Without Walls, by Jim Petersen. These are both after-the-fact accounts of how Petersen learned to evangelize in a secular society (first Brazil, then the US). The ideas are only new and remarkable because we’ve forgotten them—even though Petersen doesn’t make the point, the first few centuries of Christian growth must have happened exactly this way.
You Can Farm and Family Friendly Farming, by Joel Salatin. These were written after twenty years on the job, and twenty years after that the writer continues to prove that his ideas are viable—at least in his own hands. The other how-to books written by Salatin also qualify, but these two are particularly clear-eyed, explaining to readers both how to succeed and why they are likely to fail. I also think some good how-I-failed-at-farming books will be written in the next ten years or so, as the local food movement grows up (and perhaps peters out).