Published in 1977 by the American Friends Service Committee Simple Living Collective, this book
has had a profound impact on my life. I had graduated from high school and probably bought it brand spanky new at the bookshop I managed. I’ve dragged this book around through 35 years of life, pulling it off the shelf here and there—to re-read quick passages while a young mother, drinking in longer views and rereads as my children and other changing responsibilities shape-shifted my life. I crafted my outlook on economics, politics and just how one is to live in a society largely based on the queries, analyses and ideas contained in it.
The last portion of the book is devoted to The Shakertown Pledge, which was originated by a group of Friends (Quakers) at a meeting at a retreat center on the site of the restored Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, in response to concerns around global poverty/ecological crises. I typed out my own copy on my old Remington typewriter, inserted a signature line and thoughtfully signed it. I’ll type it out again for you to see:
The Shakertown Pledge
Recognizing that the earth and the fullness thereof is a gift from our gracious God, and that we are call to cherish, nurture, and provide loving stewardship for the earth’s resources.
And recognizing that life itself is a gift, and a call to responsibility, joy, and celebration.
I make the following declarations
1. I declare myself to be a world citizen.
2. I commit myself to lead an ecologically sound life.
3. I commit myself to lead a life of creative simplicity and share my personal wealth with the world’s poor.
4. I commit myself to join with others in reshaping institutions in order to bring about a more just global society in which each person has full access to the needed resources for their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth.
5. I commit myself to occupational accountability, and in so doing I will seek to avoid the creation of products which cause harm to others.
6. I affirm the gift of my body, and commit myself to its proper nourishment and physical well-being.
7. I commit myself to examine continually my relations with others, and to attempt to relate honestly, morally, and lovingly to those around me.
8. I commit myself to personal renewal through prayer, meditation, and study.
9. I commit myself to responsible participation in a community of faith.
The world has changed a lot in many ways since I signed this, but things like income disparity, wasteful and downright hateful treatment of the planet, and First World maldevelopment and consumption are still around. Other voices of the time like John Denver have gone. It doesn’t really seem like this book did much to influence the world to “kick the habit” of consumerism and the hubris that lies at its root.
Still, I think the essential message of the book is the inestimable influence of the individual. When I score myself on the Pledge, I haven’t pushed through any legislation, won any pivotal grants, nor have I been responsible for innovation or reshaped institutions. But I do wear simple clothing, support local farmers and businesses, and spend time rereading this little book for that one more shiny nugget that I can put into service. And maybe that’s okay.