Reflections on Simplicity

I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus/fast from blogging. It coincided somewhat with a Lenten fast but I think I also was in the mood for a short break. Since my last post, I’ve moved with my community to a new house. Moving affords all sorts of opportunities to start new, and so I’ve tried hard to be diligent about finding ways I can live more simply and with more regard for creation around me. I also gave a talk at the University of Maryland InterVarsity group about simplicity. The text we used was Matthew 6:19-34.

This excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount is about money and possessions. The way I understand the whole Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus is giving instructions on what it means to live in the kingdom of God, which has come on earth along with Jesus. In this new kingdom, the poor in spirit are blessed, we love our enemies, and we live differently with our possessions. Chapter 6:19-34 has four stories, 3 of which seem to be obviously about money/possessions. 1)Store up treasures in heaven 2)Can’t serve God and money and 3)Don’t worry about your stuff.

The fourth (second in order) story talks about the eye as the lamp of the body. Because it comes right along with these other stories, I assume it also is helping us to understand the kingdom and our possessions. The way I read it is that the eye is our perspective, our lens for all that we do. The way we see the world determines how we will live in it. If that eye is light (read Kingdom of God) than we’re set.

Last in the series of stories is the “Do not worry” passage, where Jesus reminds the listeners that God has made enough stuff and the way the kingdom of God works, there’s enough. I don’t think Jesus is promising that nobody will ever go hungry. If he is, than he’s wrong because 30,000 children die daily from lack of proper resources. Rather, Jesus is saying that the problem of hunger and disparity is not a result of God’s kingdom or creation. The language Jesus uses of clothing the lilies and providing food for the birds is reminiscent of Genesis, where the creation story tells us how God provides for each part of creation. But when we use more than our share of these abundant resources that God has created, we make it difficult for the truth in Jesus’ words to be heard for millions of people. With that in mind, at least part of our effort in living simply must be driven by a desire to allow everyone to share in the resources God has created.

But simplicity, as Richard Foster so wonderfully helps us see, is both an inward and an outward discipline. The “Do not worry” passage concludes: Seek first the kingdom of God! Seek first to see with the eye, the lamp of the body, through the right perspective, keeping God at the center.  Foster has 3 inner attitudes that make simplicity possible: 1)Everything is God’s. 2)It’s God’s job to be concerned with the resources he provides, not ours (Foster uses the example of locking a house. It is good to take the caution to lock a house, but we know that it is not the lock that protects it!) 3)Our resources must be available to share with others.

If Jesus says there’s enough stuff, that we’ve been given an abundant amount of resources, adequate to provide for the needs of all of God’s creation, then it must be our greed, our over-consumption that accounts for the troubling disparities that exist in today’s world. Our misuse and overuse of resources prevents others from experiencing the truth of what Jesus says, that there’s enough for everyone (though if you’ve ever spent time with people from some of the poorest countries in the world, you quickly realize that they often live much more generous and abundant lives than we, who have so many possessions, often do. I don’t think that changes what I’m saying though.).  We must follow Richard Foster’s advice and practice the sharing and giving of our possessions, but I would also say that we need to learn to live within our means as God’s creations (not just our financial means), to not use more than our share of what God has made. For me this has meant biking everywhere I can, not eating meat, using handkerchiefs instead of tissues, gardening, when I need clothes buying them from a thrift store, composting.

But the other deep point behind simplicity is this internal freedom from possessions and consumption. Foster suggests finding ways to give meaningfully and get rid of the things that enslave us to money. So many of us suffer from addictions to technology or TV or all sorts of things. Give them away if you’re addicted! Try giving away something very personal to you and feel the release of attachment. I think I am especially wary of technology and how easily the desire to keep up with the newest gadgets fosters a need to consume, to purchase, and inevitably to waste, as almost all technology is designed to be obsolete or broken in three years.

Ridding ourselves of technological dependencies is definitely a modern problem. I advocate learning skills and things that remind of us about the work that goes into all that we do and have, even if that means only doing them occasionally, like baking bread or sewing/knitting. Pottery is my new kick, trying to make useful things that have beauty.

Simplicity doesn’t mean our lives can’t be beautiful or the things we have can’t be well loved and turned into objects of art. I think it means we just get rid of the things that keep us from God, internally and externally. I generally find that art brings us closer to God. Hopefully, as we learn to be more like the Creator, we see what it means to be provided for in the same way the lillies of the field and the birds of the air experience an abundance of God’s provision and care.

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One comment

  1. Libby · April 19, 2010

    Nice post, Brian. I’m glad I decided to check back in today to see if you had any new posts!

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