A Note: Several months ago I wrote this post and since then have taken steps to re-engage the topics of personal simplicity and cultural sustainability. There is more to come. I have made a few small edits to this post and added a short reflection to the end.
What to say? For a couple of years now I have been hesitant to engage publicly on issues of excessive consumerism, sustainability, and personal simplicity. A number of excuses kept me from writing and speaking. One has been self-doubt. Is it really my place to have a public voice on these issues? Another has been worry of offending people who feel judged by voluntary minimalists, many of whom, like myself, live fabulously comfortable lives far removed from the harsh realities of “forced minimalism,” i.e. extreme poverty. While the 100 Thing Challenge continues to pique interest around the world, I have wished to go in new and different directions as I re-engage the topics the challenge addressed. Finally there is this. I am a person of religious faith, a Christian, and increasingly I cannot escape the conviction that my message regarding simplicity needs to more explicitly reflect what Jesus said and did about it. There were other excuses that kept me away, too.
Some time ago in response to midlife vocational stirrings I created a guidance document for myself. A few details of this document have changed over the past few years. One paragraph has not changed, except that its sentiment has grown stronger in my heart and mind. Also, my hands and feet have grown more restless to turn the sentiment into action.
I am convinced many people around me are grieved by the broken social and cultural path to fulfillment, namely materialism, they have followed. It has failed them. Many Christians are grieved for the same reason, which in the Church’s context we might call, “Christian Mammonism.” People caught up in this false path to fulfillment feel powerless to change. I plan to be an inspiration for those people who feel hopeless. Change is possible.
Be it the calming influence of middle age or the past years of self-doubt or some other input, those words sound too grandiose and selfish to my ears these days. Yet there they are. I cannot seem to get rid of them. The best I think I can do moving forward is to pursue them with humility and humor and candor and grace. All this is a kind of confession and announcement that I am re-engaging.
Republishing this post several months after it first appeared, it seems appropriate for me to add a brief reflection about my mention of religion. Over the last few weeks there have been a number of terrorist attacks that have taken the lives of scores of innocent people. These horrible murders were perpetrated in the name of a dysfunctional religious fervor. Many of the reactions, some also invoking religious fervor, have been dysfunctional, too. Some of the reactionary rhetoric and even proposed legislation has been so intolerant that we have to search the darkest moments in world history to find analogs.
Murder of innocents combined with intolerance of the oppressed is not sustainable.
It is my conviction that sustainability must affect more than the economy and environment. Societies and the cultures each society engenders must be sustainable, too. This includes religion. A sustainable culture must make room for genuine religious belief. But because religion has so often been used as a front for fear and oppression, religious tolerance is no easy task. It is especially difficult when those who pursue tolerance put themselves at risk for being hospitable to others.
Risk we must. Without a doubt, love is the greatest risk we take in life. In the end this risky love is the only sustainable way to live.