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Miniblog #152: Initial Thoughts on Intentionally Living with Simplicity

by Carson T. Clark on November 25, 2012

I’m thinking about how to live a life of simplicity without becoming a monastic hippie. A number of disjointed thoughts are bouncing around in my head. I’ve got a sense they’re connected even if I’m not sure exactly how. First, my best friend, Matt Swanson, has talked to me for years about how radically different discipleship looked in the first century, Jewish context. That much I love, but the trouble is I haven’t heard he or anyone else propose how to reorient life so as to actually make genuine, biblical disciples.11.I’m increasingly growing weary of knowing what the problem is without knowing how to address it. Second, a Facebook friend, Andy Bossardet, recently observed, “[I’m] increasingly aware of the paradox that the most effective use of my time is the inefficient process of discipleship.” Something about this more than resonates with me; it’s as though it’s a signpost to a life calling. Third, I passionately dislike the anti-intellectual, frenetic, (radically) individualistic, materialistic, multi-tasking, pragmatic, shallow nature of American culture.22.These things frustrates me to no end. While I’ve no desire to polarize to the other extreme, I hate that we’re a mile wide and an inch deep. Fourth, I haven’t the foggiest clue how to live with an overt simplicity of life without living in an agrarian commune in which everyone gardens and makes furniture. Nothin’ but love for those inclined in that way, but that’s not me.33.I like sports, don’t particularly care for gardening, and am not principally opposed to mainstream music. Not exactly the ideal hipster profile. Fifth, I’m immensely dissatisfied both by my own lack of spiritual discipline and the overall nature of the spiritual disciplines as they’ve been taught to me. As an E/INTP who derives energy and motivation from ideas, I’ve got to figure this thing out in light of how God has wired me. Lastly, a couple weeks ago I first learned about The Order of Mission, which is based on a rule of life centering around simplicity, purity, accountability, and a missionary outlook. I’m cautiously hopeful this will be the missing piece I’ve been looking for.44.I’m hosed if it’s not since I’m fresh out of ideas.

  • Jonathan Bennett

    Check out Celebration of Discipline by Foster and Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard. Both books touch on ways to simplify without disconnecting. I should note that, at least in the case of the D.W. book, simplification is icidental to the drive of the book. But since it sounds like you’re really thinking about simplification as a means of discipleship, both books are extremely relevant.

  • Evelyn

    Want to recommend ‘Year of Plenty’ by Craig Goodwin. Easy read, very grounded, sound theology, humble.

    And to pick up on what he does, maybe the way forward for you is to pick a couple of rules for living – a bit like the Mark Scandrette experiments in truth (you could read hid ‘Practicing the Way of Jesus’ too, actually) – and voluntarily restrict certain aspects of your life where increased simplicity / inconvenience would be most spiritually beneficial for a limited period of time. From experience I can say that small things can be very powerfully transformative.

    In fact, Scandrette’s question might not be a bad place to start: what one thing could you do for the next 40 days that would change your life forever? You’ll know what it is.

  • Gill

    Do hope this leads you in a way that satisfies some of the hunger in your spirit, Carson. I think living simply should be in the dna of all Christians! It doesn’t have to take much: to decide to eat a simple diet and only buy those things: to decide against buying material things we don’t really need: to tithe and give away to others in need: it has to be a way of life as well as a conscious decision.

  • Greg Pipkin

    I can appreciate where you’re at, Carson. I’m wrestling with some of the same questions myself. Evelyn’s recommendation of Scandrette’s book is a good one. I’ve also read “The Tangible Kingdom” by Hugh Halter which I think you might appreciate. Best wishes to you!

    • Carson T. Clark

      I own the latter. Just need to read it! Thanks for the encouragement in that direction.

  • Rob K

    While I appreciate the motives behind living simply, I have observed that it can become a thing itself that is a distraction. From a strictly Christian standpoint (I know lots of non-Christians who are into simple living) I think that we long for living simply because we understand that it means reducing or doing away with those things that distract us from God and our following Him. I realized that I was spending a lot of time participating in the American culture you describe, and it edged God out. For me, living simply is a reaction to that. I try to intentionally fight against the things that create static or impede my spiritual growth.

    That being said, if living simply creates static or impedes spiritual growth because it is done for the wrong reasons (like I said, I know lots of non-Christians who are being into living simply) then it is no better than any of the other stuff. Gardening, in and of itself, does not lead to spiritual growth.

    I have not read any of the books that the other comments have brought up, so I am only speaking from personal experience. YMMV.

  • KayS

    Delurking to suggest two blogs. For practical information on how to live a simpler/simplified life while raising a family in the urban or suburban environment try by Leo Babauta and by Joshua Becker (who self identifies as a christian). Note: both these blogs approach your question primarily from the how to side with the religious implications running more behind the scenes, although both bloggers have posts on topic such as thankfulness, gratitude, mindfulness, community and what not. I realize this is a more sideways approach to your stated goal, ignore if it’s not helpful.

    While I’m delurking, really appreciating your mini series on “experiencing” God, or the lack there of as the case may be. As a fellow INTP (and a female) this has been an area of intermittent stress for me. Speaking only for myself, in the subculture of christianity I grew up and lived in there was this perception that women are more spiritually sensitive than men. Further more this spiritual sensitivity was often rather mystical/imaginative in nature, very much as described in the NPR program you linked to. Personally I’m far more aware of God as transcendent (quantum physics and deep time anyone? oh right, an interest in science isn’t exactly welcome in some churches, especially for women) rather than immanent. In fact I’m not sure I could say I’ve ever experienced (whatever that may mean) God on an immanent level and yet that is where many (most?) churches focus on when talking of experiencing God. It leaves me wondering if I’m missing some critical piece of wiring or something. Reading of your experience was encouraging, at least I’m not alone. Thanks.

  • Becky

    Sorry for the long post . I guess I could call it “Musings of a Former Jesus Freak.”

    I’m thinking of the same things and have been looking online for ministries that I can participate in.

    I’m lucky, or blessed instead, to have found Jesus at the time I did. Because I was dropped right into a ministry that grabbed ahold of me. There was no looking back. There was only “Do, or not do.”

    I had, in fact, already walked down the aisle once…. because that was the thing expected of me, and I was at that age (12) where I should have already come to a decision. I knew I had loved Jesus as a little girl. I loved to hear the stories about him. But nobody told me what to do AFTER I became a believer. I drifted away…until the psychedelic 70s when a boyfriend started slipping me LSD because I was “too square.” I began searching for God then.

    I moved to California on the spur of the moment, and eventually found myself at the House of Christian Love, where I accepted Christ as my Savior. After that, there was no looking back. The elders of the commune believed that a new Christian should not work until they were grounded in the Word. So two elders supported many people, sometimes up to twenty-four people. People slipped food money under the door, and we managed to get by and feed others, too..

    That didn’t mean we didn’t work. We had our garden, and each had an additional job or two to do….besides going out and witnessing. We attended Bible studies every night, in addition to studying on our own, and went to Calvary Chapel .My job was cooking, which was unfortunate, because I only knew how to make cracked wheat, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spaghetti, and vegetable soup.

    The elders also believed we should share whatever we owned. Translated, that meant that we fed whoever came by for food. We talked with and made friends of many people who wouldn’t be allowed in a church today. We took care of the mentally ill.

    We kept our own underwear, but shared all other clothes. We gave away most of our personal stuff. I slept in a room with five other women. I can’t ever recall an argument or fight. We went out to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm to witness. And out to the Manson Family Ranch. We prayed and believed that God would protect us. We believed in the New Testament example of living.

    Calvary Chapel was an important part of our lives, but the main part of life was serving.

    Later, when I moved to Athens, I felt my ministry was with University Church, cooking, hosting fellowship groups, etc. and still later on, with the Emergency Room, where I was an EMT/ED tech and Brian was a Paramedic. There I got real up close and personal with the ill, the weary, the frightened, and the mentally ill. And I loved it.

    Now my life has become so much more complicated,with a debilitating illness that has robbed me of 20 years of my life, and the freedom to trust and have faith is slipping away.

    My neighborhood doesn’t tolerate overnight visitors parking on the street, much less people wandering up on foot. I can no longer run away from trouble because of Late Stage Lyme disease. We live in a paranoid, fearful society, and I hate that it’s leaching into my life.

    Before, I had no problem talking to,or sharing with, a Hell’s Angel member or a member of a dangerous group….I only saw them as people, as a brother or sister who needed consolation….who needed to know the really GOOD news. Now, almost 40 years later, I’m not so sure where my courage went. I’m weighed down by illness, by fear, by sorrow.

    My gut feeling is that I should be so busy doing the practical things that need to be done for people that loftier thoughts would have to wait until later. As Dan Orme says, “If you peel away theology, Christianity should remain.” I should be weary with doing good: feeding people, tutoring, mentoring, walking, looking, listening, holding a hand, visiting the sick, going to the jail.

    I think I just need Aslan to come give me a good kick in the butt. He’s not a tame lion, and I’m very grateful for that..

    • Becky

      An addendum: You’re on a different path, but seeking some of the same things. Your life will be more of the mind; you’ll have to contemplate answers to the questions that church members will have. (and there are some convoluted ones, if I remember what Dan’s been asked in my hearing. )

      Of course , there’s the Father Flanagan approach (of the Mickey Rooney movies) He rolled up his clerical sleeves and got going….sometimes with belting some sense into someone.

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