Thursday, May 12, 2005

Home, land and belonging

Anne Atkins' Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 this morning set off a line of inspiration going through David Schidler's Communio article on homelessness as the modern condition, Wendell Berry's Hidden Wound and Fr John Kaiser's If I Die

John Kaiser, who dedicated himself to rural Kenyans to the point of martyrdom, witnessed their distress when forced from their land by corrupt politicians:

"I think it is impossible to exaggerate the suffering caused to a peasant farmer when he loses his land, which he deeply loves and with which he identifies. Many of the farmers had sold everything they owned to purchase small pieces of land in Enoosupukia. They had no other place they could call home. To them, being uprooted from their homes was worse than death itself."

Schindler and Berry demonstrate that western man's angst is because he is homeless: he feels he does not belong - in the national society as a whole, in the local community, in his workplace, and tragically often in his own home; there is a permanent sense of exile. Though possessing a "home", it is not the chief focus of meaning for his life, and the house itself is alienated from land, work and even family in increasing numbers of instances; it is a commodity to be traded and a base to prepare the worker to work for another, away from home; the urban dweller has a minimal contact with local community, not sufficient to call it living in any proper sense. Even economic activity is no longer centred on the home or the land which is the seat of the home. Thus western man experiences the same anguish as the dispossessed Kenyan farmers, but as a chronic and normal condition.

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