A Plain Life: Walking my Belief
© 1998 Scott Savage
You have to be careful about working in a library. Sometimes books change your life. Scott Savage and his wife were both librarians whose environmental interests put them on a path – spurred by books — altogether different than they would have ever expected for themselves. For Scott, in particular, it would lead to an eight day pilgrimage to Columbus, Ohio, to surrender his license to drive — a purpose-filled ritual that for him would seal his decision to live more deliberately, to drop out of a noisy, frantic, and meaningless consumer existence. In A Plain Life, Savage reflects on his and his wife’s spiritual journey even as he makes his way to the city through Amish country.
All the answers are not in books, but they can point the way, and so it was that one introduced the Savages to a viable alternative to frenzied consumerism: the Amish. The plain folk were living proof that the technoid future was not inevitable; it was still possible to live in another way. The Amish made Scott aware that what he was most yearning for was community – something most of us in the United States have lost, living as we do in eternal placelessness. The Amish are not technophobes, but rather a community who thoughtfully consider a given technology’s potential for disruption of their home lives, community health, and spirituality. Neither Scott nor his wife were religious practitioners, and had consider themselves closed to any Christian tradition – and yet the Amish re-opened that door.
The tradition which the Savages would ultimately embrace, however, was not the Amish but rather the Quaker. Each chapter follows Scott on his day’s walk, and the text follows his thoughts – sometimes dwelling on the growth of his ‘plain’ practices, sometimes on the history of the area, sometimes on technology and modern life. What brings each day into focus in his religious practice, as he works on memorizing the Beatitudes throughout the sermon; these verses, and his hymns, often color his thoughts for the day — connecting “blessing are the meek”, for instance, with a reflection on humility and self-knowledge, connecting also to the places he is traveling through — like a peat island that is disintegrating.
A Plain Life has a lot to say, though how much is heard depends on the audience. Presumably few people would adopt a life like Scott’s — a home without electricity, for starters — but I imagine a much larger number would be willing to admit their own dissatisfaction with the atomized lives so many of us lead. In any case, a central lesson is that none of us are are free in the sense that we like to think we are, in that we escape the consequences of our actions; our uses of technology shape us, just as they shape our world, and not necessarily for the better. Scott may have been thinking of how televisions disrupt family life, and how automobiles spur people to continually hunt for satisfaction elsewhere, across the horizon — but today such inroads are even more invasive, the struggle more close-quarters. Conversations about technological disruption seem more common, as people looking for answers as to why politics on every side has gotten more vicious blame social media. The tech facilitates abuse, but we’re all the ones feeding the beast.
If Savage rings any interest, I would highly suggest his anthology, The Plain Reader. It’s stayed by my bedside ever since I read it.