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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.



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