"Transcend and include... this is the self-transcending drive of the Kosmos—to go beyond what went before and yet include what went before... to open into the very heart of Spirit-in-action." Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if a group of people somewhere were for something and against nothing?" Ernest Holmes

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rod Dreher's Not-so-Little Way

Most of Rod Dreher's new memoir about the death of his sister seems to be about the value of turning back from individualism in the world and returning to the "little way" of small-town family and community. But it is not. It's about something bigger.

This top conservative writer--whose work I admire for its balance--does indeed uproot his family to move home during his sister's terrible struggle with cancer. In "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming," Rod recounts his  awe at the simple acts of love and support that carry his family through. His sister, Ruthie Leming, was a vivacious and loving teacher with a simple faith in God. We see the lives she touched and how the network of community she helped create supports her family through her crisis.  When hearts are breaking over her loss, "the levee holds," he says.

Rod realizes that he has spent his life talking about community while his sister has been creating it. But things get more complicated when he moves his wife and children back to his native St. Francisville, Louisiana, from their cosmopolitan life in Philadelphia. This is actually the second time Rod has moved back home. And as then, he is soon confronted by all the petty, small-mindedness and suppressed feelings that made him bolt from that life as a teenager. Indeed, two terrible secrets are revealed at the book's end which shove his face up against the limitations of this "little way" he has so idealized.

Rod Dreher at Barnes and Nobel
Tysons Corner 
Rod and his wife decide to stay. So how does he integrate the terrible pull between the benefits of community and individuality? I think I sensed the answer when my DC Integral buddy Ron nudged me to attend Dreher's book signing at Tyson's Corner earlier this week.   In that talk, anyone who came for Rod's great theories and critical thinking may have been disappointed. Instead he spoke only of love; he demonstrated the forgiveness and authenticity that are so often missing in traditional community. I realized that this man of ideas has not only become more like his here-and-now sister, he has transcended her way of life. With the help of technology, he can not only share coffee with his parents every morning, but also share his ideas with the world. And more important, he can be a bodhisattva in his small town--showing by quiet example how humble service in community can co-exist with individual expression.

This is not a little way. This is a big way--a way that points toward how to manage so many of the polar values that tear us apart individually and as a society. And it is a way that perhaps is available only to those who choose to circle back in some form. Dreher writes
Because I went away all those years ago, I could come back not out of guilt, but out of love, of my own free choice.
Rod Dreher's story supports me in my own roller coaster ride to integrate the polarity of individuality and community.  Since my adventures recounted in The Bishop and the Seeker, I dance between the individual expression of my New Thought community and the humility and sacrifice honored at the Black church I was dropped into.

Of course, both those choices are about my needs for community and individuality. What about the needs of my family back in my small town in California? I'd like to think that when the time is right, love will point the way.  And then I'll appreciate the nudge from "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming."


Laurie Moison said...

Teri, I read your review with deep gratitude--on so many levels. I live in a small town and the reason I chose to isn't just because of how beautiful my village is, it's also because of my visceral need for community.
I am also experimenting with community in a New Thought church--seeking to be creative in finding ways to transcend past limiting religious beliefs while including them in the lifegiving ideas I am finding in this community. Of course, this is where your book, The Bishop and the Seeker, also resonnates deeply.

Dreher's approach to see the limitations of community while at the same time choosing love is the same approach you've taken and it's one I greatly admire.

Maintaining our individualism within community is not an easy task--way too easy to fall into "group think" in an effort to "belong." Transcending Emerson's "I must be myself. I will not hide my tastes and aversions" while including it in Holmes "living as if nothing and no one were against us" is possible only if we choose love. I am deeply grateful to you and Dreher for being guides for those of us who want travel this road but sometimes aren't clear about the "how to".

Pauli said...
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