Thursday, February 17, 2011

'Tis a Gift to be Simple...

"Simplicity is the first cousin of contentment. It's motto is, 'We brought nothing into this world, and we can certainly carry nothing out.' It recognizes that we are pilgrims. It concentrates us on what we need, and measures this by what we use. It rejoices in the good things of creation, but hates waste and greed and clutter. It knows how easily the seed of the Word is smothered by the 'cares and riches of this life.' It wants to be free from distractions, in order to love and serve God and others." John Stott, British evangelist.

Every year at about this time, I am filled with a compelling urge 'clear out' my house. I guess it is a cabin-fever sort of thing, having been stuck inside with all my stuff for the winter, until it threatens to overwhelm me. I have always wanted to live a Simple Life, whatever that may mean. In fact, I remember very clearly a conversation with my husband, (then fiancé) before we were married, in which we agreed that we both wanted to live in a simple and uncomplicated way. I guess that is one of the reasons we are both also so enamored with the Arts and Crafts movement. After all, it was William Morris, father of the movement in England, who said to "have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

So how have I come to be so surrounded by Stuff? I think I am less surrounded than many I know are, but I am quite bad enough. Every year, I am determined to pare down, clear out, declutter, and enrich the local Goodwill by the truckload. I do make some headway each year, and I have begun the process again recently. But I've not made enough headway. And I somehow manage to get More Stuff each year! I am not a 'shopper:' in fact, I hate shopping, and generally shop only under duress, and as quickly and efficiently as possible. Still, the Stuff accumulates.

My daily Bible reading has seen Jacob and his many women and children traveling on foot across the Middle East with all their possessions. How would that even be possible for me? Where would I recharge all my gadgets? I can barely haul my carry-on bag for a week-long trip through an airport without looking for something with wheels to help me haul it! I have so much Stuff, I can often not even find what I need among the piles of it. Yesterday, it took me 20 minutes to find some oil pastels that I KNEW I had somewhere, among all the Stuff in my studio closet. That cannot be a good thing.

I also have so many books (many of which were used or old, I will grant) that there is no more room on the many bookshelves in our home. So several years ago I made an unbreakable, and so-far unbroken, rule that if one more book came into the house, at least one had to go out. It is a good rule, and, except for the digital ones I am now reading, I will stick to it. (Do you see that I have already found a loophole to my rule?)

I do believe Mr. Stott is correct, though. Simplicity leads to contentment. And lack of simplicity is nothing more than greed; it is not need. Our Stuff can consume us, spiritually and emotionally. Clutter is more than physical; it can weigh us down. So I will continue to fill my Goodwill boxes, and I will continue to ask myself if I really need something before I bring it into my life. I hope I get better at this Simplicity thing. I know it is the way God wants me to live.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Be Strong and Courageous...

Rosa Parks was born on this day, February 4th, in the year 1913. When she was 42 years old, she had the courage to stand up to one of our country's greatest wrongs; the treatment of one group of people as having less value than another. Those kinds of acts continue in our country, and even more sadly, in our churches, yet today.

When I was in high school and came across the concept of civil disobedience, Rosa Parks became one of the people on my short list of heroes. Not only was she of the 'wrong' race, but she was a woman; the 'wrong' sex to do a brave and courageous act that would lead to the betterment of our world.

Last year, in my reading through the Bible, I was led to underline every time I saw God tell someone to "Be Strong and Courageous." I did a lot of underlining! That phrase was almost always followed by the promise that the Lord would be with us when we acted on behalf of Right, with strength and courage. I am sure that Rosa Parks leaned on that promise the day she refused to move to the back of the bus, and as she was arrested, fingerprinted, and treated like a criminal.

I confess that I prefer to not think of inequities as I go throughout my day. But we are called to think of others and of how they are treated. My recent treatment as a woman in the church has led me to be more willing to open my eyes to those who are believed to be 'less than' others. It is these whom Christ had the most compassion with. Surely these were among the ones whom He was thinking about as he died on the cross: these, whose lives are not more difficult because of anything they have done, but because of how we treat them, based on superficial differences of race, sex, or even belief.

As we go about our days, let us be Strong and Courageous, as Rosa Parks was, as Christ Himself was. Let our acts and treatment of others reflect that strength, courage, and most especially the Love that motivates them. Brigid of Ireland said, "I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us. I would like an abundance of peace. I would like full vessels of charity. I would like rich measures of mercy. I would like cheerfulness to preside over all. I would like Jesus to be present."

I would like that, too.