Advent DevotionalA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriendingDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity in action

Wednesday July 20 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity in action

Some years ago we offered at class at our church on the book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, by Ronald Sider. In the 1997 revision of the book, Sider makes many connections between world poverty and environmental degradation, because it is usually the poor who suffer the most ill effects from the impact of pollution. About six months after the class, one woman who had attended told me about the great impact the class had on her.

Before reading the book, she had no idea of the extent of world poverty or its connection to pollution. After the class, she prayed a lot about how to respond. God led her very clearly to take the bus to work two days a week instead of driving, as she had been doing. She figured out that by taking the bus she saved 2500 miles a year of wear and tear on her car, which reduces both pollution and the carbon emissions that cause global warming. She had to change busses in downtown Seattle, and she found that she often bought birthday cards and other small items downtown as she waited for her next bus. This saved her additional miles she would have driven on her car. She could read and pray on the bus, which proved to be a big bonus.

What struck me the most about my conversation with her was her joy. She had learned about God’s care for the poor and for the earth, she had prayed about it, and God had led her to do something that reduced pollution and freed up money, which can be given away. Riding the bus wasn’t something she felt she ought to do. It was something she wanted to do because God led her to do it. It was an act of devotion to God, a way to embrace God’s priorities in the world. It had meaning to her because it connected her to God’s priorities and her own values.

So many people in recent years have talked to me about the movement in their lives towards experiencing each moment as a gift from God, truly being present to the grace in the small things of life. This involves appreciating the people we are with, paying attention to what we are doing, and noticing the blessings of warmth, beauty, and tenderness when they occur in people or in nature. Many people call this attitude “mindfulness.”

To the extent that we embrace consumerism, we are forced to speed up the pace of our lives in order to earn more money to support our lifestyle. We also have to take the time to care for all our possessions. Voluntary simplicity enables us to slow down and experience spaciousness of time and place. Simplicity can help us live more mindfully.

A best-selling writer on simplicity, Cecile Andrews, talks about the fact that our sense of scarcity makes it hard for us to be mindful. We are anxious about time and money; we worry that we won’t have enough of either. Our fear of scarcity impacts our whole life and makes us move quickly and frantically. She writes:

To live mindfully, to appreciate your time, you have to move slowly. There’s nothing more difficult for Americans, and we have gotten worse in the last twenty years. Court reporters find that we talk faster. We walk faster, our movies are faster. MTV is the perfect example. Just when you start to focus on an image, the camera moves on.[1]

Those words were written 17 years ago, when MTV was fairly new. Just think how much faster images move today. Andrews advocates saying the words, “slow down,” almost as a mantra, and she believes that slowing down and practicing mindfulness is a prerequisite for developing an attitude of thankfulness.

This is the eighth post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         
     Voluntary simplicity           

(Next week: "Bill's story." This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration: Winter day in Queenstown by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

[1] Cecile Andrews, “The Spirituality of Everyday Life,” inSimpler Living, Compassionate Life, ed. Michael Schut (Denver: Living the Good News, 1999), p. 38, 39.

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity

Thursday July 14 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: voluntary simplicity

As we slow down to experience the joy of this moment in this particular place in God’s creation, we understand more deeply God’s call to be careful stewards of all that God made. Part of that stewardship needs to be a reevaluation of the way we live in our consumer society.

Day and night the beauty of nature speaks to us of God’s greatness and calls us to praise and prayer. Day and night our consumer culture is also speaking to us, but the message is very different.

“More is better.” “If you are feeling sad, discouraged, or sexually unattractive, you will feel much, much better if you buy something.” “Shop ’till you drop.” These messages are pervasive. We encounter these voices in advertisements, TV sitcoms and talk shows, movies, magazines, newspapers, shop displays and throughout the online world.

Our consumer culture seriously gets in the way of faithful stewardship of creation in a variety of ways. Possessions cost money, and many of us have to work harder to pay for our many things. The extra time spent working makes us hurried and scattered, much less able to be intentional about the way we live. Possessions have to be shopped for, maintained, repaired, and housed, which requires time and effort that might have been spent doing something more restful and spiritually restoring. Everything we buy had to be made somewhere and then transported to us. The factories that make things and the trucks that transport things are often serious polluters.

Richard Foster is very blunt in describing the seriousness of the consumer messages from our culture: “Our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy.” Foster believes we get sucked into consumerism because “we lack a divine Center.”[1]

One Christian response to consumerism is voluntary simplicity, choosing to live below the level of affluence that we can afford, for the purpose of slowing down consumption, living more intentionally, and striving to be more connected to what God desires for us. Many people who choose voluntary simplicity have a strong commitment to honoring God as creator, because living more simply serves both the earth and the poor of the world. Voluntary simplicity has a particular appeal at midlife as we desire to strip away the extraneous possessions, commitments and values in our lives and embrace what really matters to us.

Voluntary simplicity is not another “should” or “ought.” People who practice simplicity express enthusiasm for the joy they have experienced in embracing a different set of values than the ones promoted by our culture. They talk about the beauty in the words “less can be more.” To understand the joy of simplicity, think for a moment about the difference between a huge bouquet of flowers and a single rose. Sometimes the huge bouquet is appropriate, but sometimes the single rose is the best option because it is more restful, and its beauty is not obscured by a lot of other flowers.

Our culture tells us that huge bouquets, composed of a wide variety of different flowers, are always best. We live, in effect, so surrounded by huge bouquets that we are overwhelmed by them. Simplicity offers a kind of beauty that is spare, clean, pure, and straightforward.

As we begin to see more clearly the sickness of living by consumer values, the beauty of nature can be a source of soothing balm. If I go shopping, I am constantly faced with my desire to possess, and I have to fight against the lust for things that lies just below the surface of my soul. If I walk in some upscale neighborhoods not far from my home, I find myself lusting after huge homes and beautifully manicured gardens. If I go for a walk in a park, however, I can focus on the ducks on the lake, the clouds in the sky, and the wind on my face. There is no way I can possess those things, so I am briefly free from all the seductive desires that sweep across my mind.

Simplicity and looking for God’s hand in creation can reinforce each other in a life-giving ebb and flow. Embracing simplicity can help us slow down enough to hear the voice of creation calling us to draw near to the Creator. At the same time, slowing down enough to appreciate nature can help us desire to simplify our lives and focus on what is really important to us. These complimentary forces can be very helpful and encouraging.

This is the seventh post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         
     Some thoughts from midlife interviews         
     The good creation         
     Creation care         

(Next week: a wonderful example of the joy of voluntary simplicity. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

[1] Richard Foster, “The Discipline of Simplicity” inSimpler Living, Compassionate Life, p. 182.