Posts Tagged ‘simplicity’

Mary Martha 2Having been a Martha type most of my life, it takes some strong intention on my part to return to the “one necessary thing.” In our Lenten devotional, the word for this week is Service and the first meditation is on Mary and Martha and I am reminded again, that service must come out of devotion or burn-out comes next.

The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:41-42, CEB]

A group of us at the church are participating in the Daniel Fast for the next 21 days, right up to Easter Sunday. And although there’s a lot of talk about the foods and food preparation (basically vegan – very Martha), the essence of it needs to be Mary, or the entire process becomes another diet or fad.

Clearly, we clutter our bodies with junk food & drink in the same way that we clutter our minds with noise, screens, and distraction. Where we can cleanse our bodies by changing our diet, it seems harder to clear our minds. This is one of the reasons why we all need times of solitude and silence. We need to stop multi-tasking and instead, put our single focus on God, on Christ, on the Holy Spirit, on the Word. Pick. Be. Rest.

In the journey toward simplicity, the questions that must be answered over and over again are, “do I need this?” or “do I love this?” Having just been through my first downsize, I practiced these questions quite a bit. Nonetheless, and despite giving away over 35 boxes of book, I still have eight shelving units filled with the books that remained. It’s a process. But I am getting better at it. Triage.

And I’m thinking this same process happens in the mind and spirit. Do I need think about this right now? Do I love contemplating upon this? Is it edifying or destructive? Will this practice move me closer to God?

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Pastor Jess Bousa of Restore Church tells an interesting story about a woman who called up a pastor to give the church broken pianoher piano. When they arrived to pick it up, she explained that she had purchased a new piano and no longer needed the old one. And so she gave it to the church. I am “convicted” as they say by this story. After all, is that the intention of giving to God, our second, third or fourth best? Or, is it supposed to be our first fruits? In other words, not the old piano but the new one. That’s a sacrifice, that’s giving something of true value. We so often treat the church like the used clothing store. I have been guilty of this too.

Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. [Deuteronomy 12:11, NIV]

What choice possessions have I given? I am close to the full tithe. Not completely, but close. I’m still negotiating, I know. It’s fear based. I know that God will bless me if I give out of my faith. But when I withhold, my faith becomes dented, like a dip in the road. Or worse, maybe it’s whack against my foundation. For a while, my house will continue to stand, but if I allow enough whack, I shouldn’t be surprised if there’s a collapse. I’m just sayin.’

But outside of money, what else is there to give? Our church collects clothing for swaps and the like. It’s amazing the condition of items that are given: stained and torn, sometimes it would do better in the rag bag. Is there pleasure in this kind of giving? Or during the holidays, we are encouraged to “adopt” a child and purchase gifts for him/her. We finally had to spell it out, “spend $75” on your adopted kid because people were going to the dollar store, buying the cheapest things, the least valuable.

freedom-writersAbout a year after we adopted our Russian daughter who was struggling with English in high school along with white, middle class bullies. At the same time, she had never known people of color, so I took her to see the film, Freedom Writers. In this film, a teacher, played by Hilary Swank, inspires a class of at-risk students to learn tolerance, apply themselves, and pursue education (a hope for a future). But before the teacher got there, these same students, mostly poor, were given the worst supplies, the shabbiest books, and so forth. The administration reinforced the expectations that the students were unworthy. The teacher in this film took a risk and gave them new books and opportunities never afforded them before. She gave her best. And she commanded their best. [For my daughter, this opened her own eyes as well, to prejudice of all kinds and she turned a huge corner.]

Once I admired a pair of earrings a woman was wearing. She told me they were her favorite earrings and she, too, liked wearing them. The next time I saw her, she gave me a small box and inside were the same earrings. Not new, no, but the very ones she loved the most. And now, they are one of my favorite pair as well. A small gift she gave, but from the heart. She gave the earrings to me physically, but in essence, she gave them to God.

letting goI’ve been doing a lot of downsizing as I moved into a smaller house. I literally had to let go of most of my furniture and when I could, I sold it. But really, not all of it would sell. Among these things was my very expensive bedroom set. It was two days before moving day and still no one would buy it and so, I gave it away to a family in the church. And I felt better about that giving than any dollar I earned from anything else. simplicity

Slowly, I’m getting the idea. It may take one more downsize, one more letting go move, to really “let go” of the stuff, to experience true simplicity. For I’m thinking that it is out of simplicity that generosity flows. I will no longer “rate” the value of what I have and give the less or more valuable, but all of it is a feather in the wind.

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Job and God and Me

Watercolor by Tammy Groves Thornton

Watercolor by Tammy Groves Thornton

We all have challenges in life. That’s the nature of the journey. How will we answer?

Job arose, tore his clothes, shaved his head, fell to the ground, and worshiped. He said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb; naked I will return there. The Lord has given; the Lord has taken; bless the Lord’s name.” In all this, Job didn’t sin or blame God. [Job 1:20-22, CEB]

We’re in over our heads. With each growth spurt, another adversity. Strength is earned. Patience is earned. Perseverance is earned. And woven through them all is the seeming paradox of surrender, trust, and abandon of control.

Our pastor challenged us at the beginning of the year to choose a single word around which to focus our time and energies. I took this intention to heart and chose the word Simplicity. But in order to kindle a simpler life, I must examine the roots that produced the other lifestyle–the chaos and the busyness, the stress and over-commitments. A lot comes from the accumulation of stuff. Now, in the face of losing a loved one, the stuff no longer holds much power or significance. There’s a wind blowing through me and I’m letting go.

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Do I do this? Do I participate, even unknowingly, in the rituals of the demonic? In the same way that idols are temptations, then couldn’t the foods that fuel evil be equally prevalent. It’s a type of consumerism and an attitude of entitlement.

I Corinthians 10:20-21a
. . . the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too . . .

I am not alone. We live in a culture of wanting it all.

The other day, I heard a talk show on WYPR Baltimore about the world’s dependence on oil (these conversations abound in the shadow of the BP gulf oil disaster). In this interview with Robert Bryce, author of Power Hungry, they talked about the unwillingness of the world’s consumers to stop using oil, which is comparatively cheap, relatively plentiful, and has the best energy density.

There are alternative energy sources, but none of them are as easy to glean from the earth. There would be a huge sacrifice to make this change and basically, the world’s population is unwilling to do it. Even with the new “green” initiatives, the transition will always be a painful one and most will not make the change willingly.

This is a drink we take every day. We drive fuel-hungry cars, we use plastics without a thought, we consume oil like candy. This drink has crept steadily into our lives and many can’t even see it.

Over the years, many people have pointed out how missionaries of the past have ruined cultures by imposing their belief systems on various native people around the world. And I cannot disagree. But I say, culturally, we are doing the same thing. We are introducing consumerism and dependence on oil. We are teaching them to “be like us.”

Oh yes, there is a price to pay when drinking with the demons of today.

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One thing really gets my goat at home: not being heard. The kids tune me out and apparently, they do the same thing at school (What test? What homework? etc.). My husband is in his own world and even the dogs tune me out. Is it the messenger?

Romans 10:17
So faith comes by hearing [what is told], and what is heard comes by the preaching [of the message that came from the lips] of Christ (the Messiah Himself)

These verses of Romans 10 are often used to support the need for missionaries around the world. After all, they say, someone must go to preach the message, the good news, to all those unbelievers.

But the hearing part is just as essential to the equation. Why don’t people hear? Are they unready to hear? Is the message unclear or poorly presented? Is the message given in love or draped in fear?

Over the years, the messengers (ministers, preachers, missionaries, evangelists) have wrapped the good news into a variety of packages. As a result, we now have the “four spiritual laws,” Evangelism Explosion, Billy Graham Crusade, Seeker-sensitivity, Christian infotainment, Veggie Tales, contemporary, rock, and even hip-hop music, along with movies and multi-media, to name a few. All of these were created to make the “message that came from the lips of Christ” accessible.

But is it really all necessary? Have we possibly diluted the message? Or, have we lost the simplicity of the message?

Jesus came with a story. He spoke it and they listened. We do a greater service to the message of God if we simply tell our story as well. The story of God touching my life cannot be argued. I lived it, I walked it, and it’s mine.

People don’t usually tune out story unless it sounds false.When speaking the story of Christ touching me, it is important to be truthful and transparent. Truth resonates.

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I’m still holding on to my cargo, I know it: the stuff… all the stuff that keeps dragging me backward. Some of it is beloved, but how does that compare with the more important things in life?

Acts 27:18
We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard.

I am embarrassed to say how much stuff I really have. I go through periods of organization and as a result, I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding it (neatly labeled and tucked away). But there are boxes and boxes of books in my basement (above and beyond the bookshelves that are maxed out as well) and boxes of memorabilia and boxes of costumes. Some boxes are filled with my mother’s books; I keep them from a type of sentimentality. And yet, most of them aren’t even in English for heaven’s sake.

God is patient though. I know this for a fact. God will wait and nudge and teach and guide, hoping I will choose, on my own, to start dumping my cargo. I don’t believe God wants me to go through a brutal storm where personal safety trumps the stuff. But, if I persist in holding too tightly to these things, that could happen next.

The nudges I have been getting are about living more simply. We are living in terrible economic times. Our family is not so different from others, credit cards loaded with debt and we’re trudging along from one paycheck to the next. We are fortunate that we still have jobs, but there are no longer guarantees. A great storm could hit any day.

This month I have decided to start shedding pounds… I think that’s just one place for the dieting must begin. It’s time to let go of the “things” … the unused knick-knacks, the “collection” of salt and pepper shakers, the boxes of coffee cups, the books that don’t fit on my shelves (I have 15-20 shelf units), the boxes of old papers (yes, I still have my graduate school papers), the old suitcases, the unstarted crafts, the bowls I never use, the cookbooks I never open, the sheets that don’t fit any of our beds… the list goes on.

And these “things” are symbolic of the spiritual baggage I’ve been carrying around as well: the unforgiven actions of others, the disappointments, the condemnation, the discontent, just to name a few.

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