The simple life

Jordon Cooper has a great post on simplicity. A lot of people write on this topic, but I really appreciated his tone: one of humility and, well, simplicity in talking about what some of the basic issues are.

I resonated with his descriptions of his family’s home, and the adequacy of their space. Doug and I live in a two-bedroom apartment with our two (soon to be three) kids, and anyone with children and any imagination can guess that we have some challenges in the space arena. This is compounded by the fact that Doug is a musician/worship pastor (think large instruments, amps, and speakers), as well as a student, and I work from home. For us, the living room is also the family room, the library, the playroom and home office. And in a couple of weeks, our bedroom will need to become a nursery, study, recording studio–and master bedroom. We are a Real Simple/Oprah/every home decorating show on cable nightmare…

Lately, spending as much time as I do perched on my couch, I have given a lot of thought to what we really need to have, materially. How many toys? How many books? What and when is enough?

I have friends with enormous houses, and I really mean enormous. I think of them often enough when I am feeling especially cramped and crowded here. But what I realize, and Jordon’s post touches on this as well, is that they struggle with space and storage in many of the same ways I do. I think it really is like wedding planning: we are prone to fill however much space we are given.

UPDATE: After posting this, I meandered over to Scot McKnight’s blog for my daily visit and found his excellent post addressing a similar theme: “might need it someday…”


  1. I love the idea of living simply – which I think is really just a shift to a kingdom understanding of abundance (ever read “Till We Have Faces” it had great images of kingdom abundance).

  2. A ‘middle-aged man’ take on the ups and downs of choosing a simple lifestyle in the current swim.

    I’m all in re Jesus’ call to live a simple lifestyle. Been trying to do it for a while.

    Not having enough space and accumulating too many things can be the result of faithfulness and temptation, respectively, for sure.

    If anything, I think the temptation to acquire more space and things and leave simplicity behind gets stronger as you get older, too.

    The social pressures to conform amp up as the decades go by. What seems cool to a lot of people looking at your life when you’re 25 or 30 doesn’t seem so cool when you’re 45 or 55.

    How do you send a kid to college when you’ve left the traditional career track behind and haven’t leveraged your high end education? Etc., etc.

    Some younger people and middle aged folks I know who have honestly and sincerely chosen the simple lifestyle path are still subsidized in their commitments by well off parents and relatives who ‘take the edge off’ the real costs of living that way.

    I truly believe that’s cool and encouraging and sign of God’s grace. God bless the investment of those parents and relatives in life giving stuff.

    But for the folks who don’t have those kinds of backup resources–including most Christian poor people–it seems like choosing a simple lifestyle as a faith commitment means putting the possibility of affordable health care or a college education for your kids at risk.

    I’d love to hear you and others who read your blog address those kinds of issues in light of a commitment to simple lifestyle and the ‘upside down kingdom.’ Do Jesus’ teachings and progressive Christian understandings of those teachings have social and political implications beyond our more commonplace evangelical concerns about accumulating too many things?

  3. Tom,

    Thanks for raising those questions.

    As an early-30’s married with kids, I know that in our particular vocational choices, I struggle specifically with housing (can’t afford to buy, won’t be able to any time soon) and the ramifications that has in terms of sending kids to college, thinking about retirement, etc. (I know many who utilize second mortgages, etc. to help finance college, or consider their home substantial part of their nest egg), not to mention just plain wishing for a yard or more space. I see all of my peers building equity, and it kills me to spend year after year giving thousands of dollars toward someone else’s financial security, while seemingly abandoning our own. And the irony always gets me that the very community where we can so ill-afford to purchase a home is SOUTH CENTRAL, L.A.

    And as I go back and re-read your comments, I realize that there is a distinction between living simply (not buying/owning much, sharing resources with others, rejecting materialism, living communally) and a kind of elected poverty that comes as a result of vocational choices (not leveraging your high-end education, working for a low wage, etc.). There are folks in our church community who “live simply so as to practice generosity”, but they own large homes, have college funds for their kids, carry top-line health insurance policies, etc. These are people who clearly ARE leveraging their educations. They are exceptionally generous, faithful givers, but they are not living without any of the basics. There are others whose very choice to live and serve here costs them those social norms (housing, health insurance, etc.), and the two can feel very different.

    I guess to make my point more clear, I know people who drive old cars or live with one car when they could afford more/newer, thus witnessing to a simple life and hopefully freeing up resources to give away, but I can’t think of a single story of someone in a position to buy a house who has chosen not to so as to give that money toward some mission or need, nor do I know of anyone who has ever said, “oh well, I think I will just empty my retirement or not buy health coverage, etc. so that I can testify to the simple life or help meet this or that need.”

    Those are my random thoughts at the moment…

  4. You sounded like an unusually well informed, frustrated, and upwardly mobile poor person living in inner city LA in your first paragraph :^).

    It’s unusual in my experience when an urban minister writes authentically about their economic fears and their fears about potentially lost economic opportunities for their kids because of the path they’ve chosen. That’s an unusual level of identification with the poor that gets beyond the noise and violence and ‘otherness’ of the inner city that most middle and upper middle class folks experience (and write about) when they relocate.

    I think putting yourself in that kind of position (or accepting God’s decision to put you in that situation for the sake of loving the least) has important positive implications for the power and effectiveness of ministry among the urban poor. And for the power of a blog too.

    When I said I’d love to hear you and other progressive Christian types speak up about the social and political implications of your identification with the poor, I guess I meant talking about what you think it means for Christians that many poor folks (and even many middle class folks) can’t afford to send their kids to college and have little chance at any kind of decent health care, among lots of other issues.

    I think articulate and educated Christian people who face some of the same fears and challenges as their poor neighbors may have something unique to contribute to the national political and social discussion about poverty and social policy.

    Well meaning Christian folks with large houses, college funds for their kids and top of the line health insurance policies have had their say and then some for the last 30 years in the American evangelical community.

    Maybe it’s time for them to do some listening, but unless experienced folks they consider ‘their own’ speak up, ‘how will they hear?’

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