Saturday, 17 November 2012

Living Simply – a personal challenge, part 1

This is the first of two articles, both of which will be published today.

Yesterday I wrote about what simple living means to me personally. But what it means is worthless, if it doesn’t bring about a change in attitude and result in a change of lifestyle. Words without actions are meaningless; ‘faith without works is dead’ (James 2v26). What use is it if I sell my goods and keep the proceeds? What use is it to say to someone ‘be warmed and filled, but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body’ (James 2v16)?

I can read all the books I like about simple living, I can rant about the state of the world, I can even write to politicians to ask for change, but it is of no value if I don’t get up out of my comfortable chair and actually do something.

So what’s the answer?

Wanda Brunstetter is an author of Amish fiction. On her website, she has fifteen tips for living more simply, living more like the Amish.

  1. The Amish don’t have TV, so turn off the TV and sit quietly; listen to the sounds of nature instead.
  2. When the sun is shining (or it is at least not raining) hang the laundry outside to dry, instead of using the dryer.
  3. Use public transport, or walk, or use a bicycle.
  4. Spend more time reading books.
  5. Spend more time with friends in person, chatting and enjoying each other’s company.
  6. Cook at home and eat out less.
  7. Make Christmas and birthday gifts instead of buying everything.
  8. Grow your own vegetables.
  9. Turn out the lights and have a simple meal by candlelight.
  10. Get together with friends and family to do chores.
  11. Join a volunteer project.
  12. Have a set time each week for ‘family time’.
  13. Buy fewer clothes and other unnecessary material things.
  14. Slow down and relax.
  15. Spend time in Bible reading and prayer each day.
Well, it’s a start! But what is wrong with ‘The Amish don’t have TV, so get rid of the TV’? Or at the very least don’t have a TV in every room – many of us have more than one TV in the house, thus contributing to family separation rather than togetherness.

What about, instead of ‘eat out less’ don’t eat out at all, or only on rare occasions? Can we really justify spending a week’s worth of housekeeping on a single meal in a restaurant? Especially when people are starving elsewhere – even in our own country.

A special time for ‘family time’? The Amish are family centred all day every day, not just once a week when they have a ‘get together’. They nurture family; they build community; and they do it without spending lots of money or consuming more than they need.

Voluntary Poverty/Voluntary Simplicity

I have already mentioned Ronald Sider. But he is not a man who just writes about living simply – he lives the life too. He has chosen to live in a poor area of Philadelphia, where many ‘respectable’ people would not dare to venture after dark. His decision to live a life connected to the poor has given him insights into what it really means to live in poverty and that has had an effect on his writing. His philosophy in his books is entirely more radical than Wanda Brunstetter’s fifteen points; he calls for ‘voluntary poverty’, where Christians give up what they have beyond their basic needs, in order to give to those who have little or nothing. He is by no means poor, but he has chosen a life of voluntary simplicity, or, to put it more radically, voluntary poverty. His basis for doing so is firmly rooted in the Bible.

Sider’s pithy definition of voluntary poverty is ‘living more simply so that others may simply live’. By choosing to live frugally, he is freeing up more of his resources to give to those in need. The Catholic Church is currently worth around $422bn. Was it ever Christ’s intention that the church should stockpile? I don’t believe it was – His mantra was ‘sell all – give’.

In her book, ‘Living More with Less’, Doris Longacre sets out to show how a Christian can experience that abundant living promised by Jesus, while not indulging ourselves at the expense of our neighbour. The book is filled with quotes and examples from people around the world who are seeking to live out a life they see mandated in the Bible.

Radical Christian Living

Jesus was a radical. He lived a life of poverty, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God. He died so we could reach heaven, through faith in Him. He did not have to do that. Being God, He was already in heaven, which he voluntarily left for our sakes. He is the supreme example of voluntary poverty!

Christians live as if Jesus, our great example, lived in a palace; He died so we could have an abundant life here on earth; it is our God-given right to have as much of this world’s goods as we can amass – with plenty left over for ‘fun’. But maybe God is saying to us, as he said to the farmer who built new and bigger barns to store all his worldly gain, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you, then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ (Luke 12v20).

Another definition of voluntary poverty: “Simple living is a lifestyle characterized by consuming only that which is required to sustain life.” It is a lifestyle choice focused on reducing our own consumption, living with less ‘stuff’ in order to meet the needs of others.

While there is nothing inherently Christian about living simply, Christians will want to live simply to follow their Lord. In his book, ‘The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience’, Sider states, “With their mouths they claim that Jesus is Lord, but with their actions, they demonstrate allegiance to money, sex and self-fulfilment.” So many of us have so much, yet we still blame God for the things we don’t have. And I am as guilty of this as the next person. Take my house for instance – lovely house, didn’t cost a lot when we bought it. Yet I frequently complain because it isn’t in the kind of neighbourhood I would like. I have to remind myself frequently that some people don’t have houses at all – they live on the streets and scavenge in rubbish heaps for their food.

It’s what you do with what you save that matters – if you live simply in order to save more money for yourself, then that denies Christ.
Check back later today for part 2....

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