My father taught me the value of simplicity. He didn’t need to update an item if it was still working. He didn’t need to purchase something to impress others. He just cared that the object fulfilled it’s function well. Dad was suspicious of people who attacked a problem with complicated solution. He told me that complexity typically demonstrated that people were using the wrong paradigm. He would often say that if you couldn’t explain something on a napkin or two then you most likely didn’t really understand an issue fully.
I learned a lot from my dad. I think he is right, that in intellectual pursuits it is very common for people to get tangled up in unnecessary complexity. I see the same thing in the spiritual realm. The heart of the gospel is so simple, that we resist it, we are ashamed of it, or we want it to be more complicated so we can proudly master it. I see this in myself, but I strive to hang onto the core, simple truths. Years ago, I remember hearing a teacher talk about a time he was at seminary. He was talking to a friend about all the advanced courses he was taking. His friend mentioned that he was going to be taking a remedial course on the doctrine of grace. The teacher was surprised and asked why his friend wasn’t taking the more advanced course. His friend’s response humbled him “Because I can’t think of anything I would rather spend my time considering. God’s grace is so tremendous. I could spend hours reflecting on it.” We need to major in the important things.
I have been reflecting a bit on a close relative of simplicity: minimalism. Doing less, consuming less, owning less to focus on things that are more important. There are a wide range of range of ways people embrace “minimalism”, I like Josh’s rational minimalism. Living in the “developed” world, its easy to get caught up with our culture which produces an almost unlimited hunger for more and more stuff which can choke out life. People find themselves working harder and harder to maintain an extravagant lifestyle. My father’s influence has given me a slight tendency to be a minimalist, to hold onto only what’s important. I have discovered how paring things down can improve the quality of life. I found that minimizing what I pack on trips makes the journey easier and more rewarding. Likewise, I found that a minimalist approach to backpacking (a close relative of ultralight backpacking) can make trips more enjoyable and the task of preparing and packing easier. I would like to be as ruthless in life at home.
I have tried, with some small success, to live a minimalist life style. For years, I have been inclined to give things away that I am not using on the theory that there are people who could make better use of the objects, wanting to be a good stewart, though these days it goes a bit beyond that. Libby would talk to objects (cars, pots, stuff animals) as if they were people… so now rather that seeing objects as just things to be use, and I can almost hear them calling to be used, to allow them to fulfill their purpose and calling. Anyone who has seen the Toy Story movies can imagine this. So if I am not using something, I can almost her the object calling out to be put in a situation where it will be loved and used. Yet, I am far from minimalist today.
Several years ago my family visited the ghost town in Bodie. One of the things that struck me was how small the houses were. Even the house for the town lawyer, one of the most prominent town members was small. Some of the homes were in the process of being restored, and repopulated with the objects that people who have likely owned. What struck me was how little stuff people had. There was no need for a large house, because it was mainly holding people, not things. Today, at least in the western world, our homes have become storerooms for our stuff. The modern day bigger barn. What was yesterday’s luxuries are quickly becoming today’s “necessities”. We are consume more are more. I doubt it is sustainable, or good stewardship. Thankfully, I believe it is possible to get off the merry-go-round.
While I believe it is possible for people to turn minimalism into a god which has no lasting value, I believe we are called to simpler lives. I was challenged by The Minimalists 21 Day Journey. If I was living alone I would likely have given it a shot, but I am not going to disrupt my child’s life right now, things are hard enough as they are. But, we have been going through things and asking the questions “Are we using this? Do we feel a deep attachment?” If not, we are trying to find someone who would find better use of this object.
I have been very challenged by I Tim 4:8, that with food and clothing, Paul was able to be content. Today, I couldn’t be content with just those things, but I hope and prayer, that someday I will be.