Simple ain’t so simple…

It’s been a longer interval than desired between posts here… It’s life in the holler. We had a water pipe (that runs from our well to the farmhouse which we are currently renovating) break suddenly. Why a water pipe would break suddenly is beyond me. When we first noticed what looked like a miniature spring bubbling up in the middle of our field, that was beyond me as well. I was equally at a loss as to how to stop the flow of water, since there was no way to turn off the water to the farmhouse. (Why no shut-off valve? Something else that was beyond me.) So we had to shut off all the water and get the broken pipe repaired. How much do I NOT know?

See that’s the thing. Oliver Wendell Douglass sang “Fa-arm livin’ is the life for me”… but he was clueless too. There are simply scores of things that pop up every day around here that are guaranteed to flummox a feller who’s lived most of his adult life in an urban environment. In the dozen or so years we lived in Kyiv, Ukraine, we were actually known as being quite resourceful, well-adjusted folks who, even though we were “ex-pats,” knew enough about what was going on that our Ukrainian friends always turned to us for the latest news during the Orange Revolution, since we were more dependable than the state-run media. There are lots of life-skills needed to thrive in a post-Soviet capital city (not the least of which was learning a new language and alphabet). But it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle.

Despite the fact that my passion for ministry involves the multiplication of redemptive, transformative communities in cities, particularly in Europe, God has, in His providence and humor, placed us here in the Virginia Piedmont, in what, until recently, would have looked to us very much like the proverbial middle of nowhere. Could there possibly be a connection? We think there is, and here’s one place we’ve been looking to tease one out: Being involved in trying to help those in mission understand and adapt to some large-scale changes that are taking place today, there are a few themes that recur consistently: one of which is globalization. In its economic aspect, it poses a real problem because, when we look at the world as a unified whole, we see that there are many in the “developed world” who live a lifestyle that would lead to the absolute destruction of our resources, were everyone in the world to adopt the same standard of living.

There are a range of responses to this realization: on one end, the forces behind economic globalization – particularly transnational consumer capitalism – are tagged as being among the “principalities and powers” against which we must wrestle (Eph. 6:12) . On the other end are those who see these “market forces” as, basically, akin to forces of nature, brute facts about the “world as it is” that we must simply learn to accept and within which we must function (kind of like gravity). I’d be happy to share where I fit on this discussion, but that’s not my point today. The fact is, there is, indeed, actual economic injustice taking place in our world today which those of us who see our walk of faith as organically connecting us to a global body know that we must oppose in the name of God, in the name of justice.

But how? About the only consistent thing I’ve heard from all corners has been a call to live a more “simple lifestyle.” (e.g., the end of Section 9 of the Lausanne Covenant). We can all do at least that much… right?

OK, great. So where do city folks like us learn how to “develop a simple lifestyle” to “get more in tune with creation”? They didn’t have courses like that in seminary when I was studying. What do those words actually even mean? That may well be why we’re here, friends. To actually learn what-all’s involved in actually living simply, more in harmony with nature. So that, when we’re involved in mentoring leaders of social ministries in Berlin, or working to mobilize opposition to modern-day slavery in Eastern Europe, or simply counseling leaders in the developing world how to build sustainability into their ministries, we are able, from out of our own life experience, bring a simplicity to bear on ministry development in even the most complex of urban centers, without lapsing into being simplistic.

That’s all well and good… until the eleventh time this week that I feel like a total ignoramus because I can’t figure out the most basic mechanical puzzle that is sitting right before me. (That 12-year old who buzzes by on his 4-wheeler every so often knows more about this than I do!) This simple life is pretty complicated: it involves skills that I haven’t picked up in a half-century of being a “life-long learner.” It involves humility: asking for help from people, even (especially!) those who are not as “well educated” as I am. It involves revising one’s picture of knowledge: which is more important, knowing how to exegete a passage in the Greek New Testament or knowing how to work a monkey wrench?

And, here’s the payoff pitch: It means we need to change some base-line definitions of things like “efficiency” and “productivity” – most everything we need to understand and measure or define “success,” even in Christian ministry. So much of how we approach life and work, and how we judge ourselves and others, is so deeply grounded in a life-style that is anything but simple, tied to the land, in sync with the rhythms of nature.

It feels right to say, “Let’s all live a more simple lifestyle,” as if saying it would in some way even begin to upset the balance of things that holds so many billions in economic scarcity. But do we know what that even means? And would we want that if it meant having to revise some of our precious measurements by which we weigh ourselves in the balance and find ourselves “approved”? Personally, I think, as global citizens and, especially, as world Christians, we must. But a word of warning: This “simple life” is far from simple, will require perseverance and humility to embrace and internalize, and will, probably, mean being less productive and less efficient (at least until you’ve managed to redefine those terms).

Let us know how “living simply” is working out for you. Right now, to me it seems like a real pain. But I really do think we’re onto something…


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