The 30-Day Minimalism Challenge

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This past weekend as I preached a message at Eastbrook Church on “Sacrificial Generosity,” I spent quite a bit of time talking about simplicity.  I believe that simplicity is the twin brother of generosity. Paul the Apostle writes:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Contentment is something I struggle with greatly. I believe it is a difficult trait to develop in our lives, particularly when we live in a culture bent on acquisition and consumerism. We consume music, movies, food, books, clothes, and more.

Simplicity is a key to attaining contentment, and it is a key to developing generosity in our lives as well. In Philippians, the letter known as “the epistle of joy,” Paul writes while imprisoned about contentment:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  (Philippians 4:11-12)

In the month of August, my wife, Kelly, and I participated in something called the 30-day minimalism game. It was an opportunity to simplify our lives and get rid of the clutter of stuff that happens to all of us. Every day of the month we would get rid of different things. On the first day we each got rid of one thing each. On the second day we each got rid of two things. On third day, three things. We did this all the way to the end of the month. We gave things away to others, dropped things at Goodwill, sold stuff online, and more. By the end of August we had both shed nearly 500 items.

Now, here is what was amazing: our life was not that different afterwards. We have more than we need. But this 30-day minimalism challenge taught me some important things:

  • I don’t need a lot of the stuff I think I need.
  • It’s hard not to want more stuff.
  • I don’t become more happy by having more stuff.
  • Contentment is sometimes easier when you have less, not more.

Generosity requires us to engage with simplicity in one way or another. Simplicity helps us learn that contentment is more about something inside us than something outside us. Simplicity helps us escape from letting our stuff own our lives. And in that place, it prepares us for generosity.

The Weekend Wanderer: 21 September 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

article_5d72a06785e29“Catholicism Made Me Protestant” – After college I worked in a Roman Catholic books and church supply store for about nine months. As I learned to navigate the store and its contents, I also went on a journey of exploring the historic roots of the Christian faith. More than once since those days, I have searched out Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as possibilities of getting to the bottom of the nature of authority within the church. Each time I have gained deeper appreciation for voices from earlier eras of the history of the church, while also returning to my Protestant roots stronger for the exploration.  Onsi A. Kamel offers an essay at First Things that echoed some aspects of my own search: “Catholicism had taught me to think like a Protestant, because, as it turned out, the Reformers had thought like catholics. Like their pope-aligned opponents, they had asked questions about justification, the authority of tradition, the mode of Christ’s self-gift in the Eucharist, the nature of apostolic succession, and the Church’s wielding of the keys. Like their opponents, Protestants had appealed to Scripture and tradition. In time, I came to find their answers not only plausible, but more faithful to Scripture than the Catholic answers, and at least as well-represented in the traditions of the Church.”

 

Judgment Day Florence Cathedral“Is the ‘final judgment’ really final?” – It would be difficult to not hear some rumblings about David Bentley Hart’s new book, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation. Hart is a rough and tumble essayist and author, whose recent translation of the New Testament spurred a critical exchange between Hart and N. T. Wright, as well as some appreciative yet critical comments from Alan Jacobs about one of Hart’s bad intellectual habits. This latest book has already generated a lot of conversations, but is essentially an argument against the church’s reliance on a form of Augustine’s thinking and for a form of Gregory of Nyssa’s thinking on salvation and hell. The Christian Century provides this excerpt from Hart’s book for engagement. Douglas Farrow’s review in First Things is not all that appreciative of Hart’s thinking in the book, but engaging with Hart’s theological project at some level is necessary work for pastors and Christian leaders.

 

Willow Creek jd word cloud“Willow Creek, What’s a Pastor?” – I have been on a journey of recovery in pastoral ministry for the last year or two. It has led me toward rediscovering what it means to be a pastor by listening to voices like Eugene Peterson and John Chrysostom, as well as exploring the dark side of leadership and what keeps ministry resilient. After serving within it for the past fifteen plus years, I am questioning nearly every aspect of non-denominational, evangelical, megachuch Christianity in North America. The flagship church for that is Willow Creek, who is now searching for a new Senior Pastor. I have some sadness for how Willow has taken so much flak in these days, but not enough sadness to avoid pointing out that most of the historically essential work of the pastor is really not present in the job description they have put forward for this role. Scot McKnight says it with much better clarity than me in this article.

 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?“When Philip K. Dick turned to Christianity” – Most fans of science fiction know that the movies Blade Runner (1982) and the recent sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (2017) were inspired by Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I was surprised to read this article in Salon a few months back about Dick’s turn toward Christianity shortly before his surge to fame within 1960s counterculture. While he didn’t stick with the church in its institutional form, his turn toward faith did, apparently, shape his later outlook and writings.

 

0_omPrFdurOKV3rsyv“A Radical Guide to Spending Less Time on Your Phone” – Those closest to me know that I’ve been on a multi-year journey to shed much of my closeness to my smartphone, some forms of technology, and social media. The most recent version of that is a project I affectionately call “the dumbest smartphone in the universe,” which is an attempt to radically simplify the apps available on my smartphone. Someday, maybe I’ll blog about it, but in the meantime read Ryan Holiday’s article which echoes many of the changes I’ve made.

 

William Blake“A blockbuster show at Tate Britain gives William Blake his due” – Two summers ago, my wife and I had the chance to get away to London for a week as part of celebrating twenty years of marriage. While there, we returned to places we had visited years ago when we both participated in a summer study program. Seeing works of revered artists in Tate Britain and Tate Modern was a highlight. While we saw many of William Blake’s drawings and etchings, this new show sounds like a delightful look at his work.

 

Music: Daniel Lanois, “The Maker,” from Acadie.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Wendell Berry on the wisdom of simplicity

Here is Wendell Berry in The Hidden Wound (Boston: Houston Mifflin, 1970), pages 100-101:

I am far from conceding anything to those who assume that the poor or anyone else can be improved by recourse to that carnival of waste and ostentation and greed known as “our high standard of living.” As Thoreau so well knew, and so painstakingly tried to show us, what a man most needs is not a knowledge of how to get more, but a knowledge of the most he can do without, and of how to get along without it. The essential cultural discrimination is not between having and not having or haves and have-nots, but between the superfluous and the indispensable. Wisdom, it seems to me, is always poised upon the knowledge of minimums; it might be thought to be the art of minimums. Granting the frailty, and no doubt the impermanence, of technology as a human contrivance, the man who can keep a fire in a stove or on a hearth is not only more durable, but wiser, closer to the meaning of fire, than the man who can only work a thermostat.

Thankful

I was standing on the edge of a mountain in central Honduras, looking over the hazy, green slopes of the valley. There were just over a dozen of us who had given up our Spring Break at college to work alongside of local Hondurans to install a gravity-fed water system in this remote village.

It had been a tiring week: hard work on mountainous terrain all day, meetings with the community at night, cold nights on damp floors, waking early to the sound of roosters crowing and dogs barking.
But as I stood gazing at the valley, I realized something was happening. My perspectives on what was important had begun to change. My work partner, Narciso, had opened my eyes to gratitude and joy in life. His contentment with what seemed like so little and his joy in Christ challenged me. I began to see through some of the ‘stuff’ of my life and culture that was blocking me from true living with gratitude and joy.
Today, as we celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving, let’s keep perspective on life.
May we remember the gifts of everyday life (food, shelter, friends, family) for what they are: gifts from God.
And may we remember the ultimate gift of life with God in Jesus Christ for what it is: complete grace.

Downsizing

I ran across this quotation from Thomas Merton in an online article by Gordon MacDonald at Leadership Journal. It stopped me and made me think about how I live.

Some of us need to
Discover that we will not
Begin to live more
Fully until we have the
Courage to do and see
And taste and experience
Much less than usual.