What's New? - Clarifying the Way of Simplicity

I love new. That may sound odd or contradictory considering my early post on simplicity but in truth, it is not. New does not always mean buying something new. For me, what I love about new, is the freshness. My wife is always looking for new recipes and I am usually looking at how I can steal those recipes for backpacking and camping ideas. I love spring because it is new, new flowers and new plants break through the ground reminding me they were never asleep during the winter months.

I love the outdoors, whether that is spent hunting, camping,

backpacking, whatever. On any given day, you can return to the same spot from the day before and if you are silent, attentive and patient, creation may surprise with glimpses of her wild and wonderful creatures or moments. When you expand 'new' beyond consumerism, we begin to realize how narrow we have defined the word. When seen this way, simplicity magnifies, multiplies, and can revitalize,in short, it makes life new.

Author, speaker and nametag guy, Scott Ginsberg, observes that, “As much as I loathe reality television with all of my being, the sheer number of makeover shows on a typical evening of programming does indicate something reassuring: Most people want to get better. Not all, but most.” (from 8 Engagement Strategies to Keep Your People from Walking Out the Door) Scott points to a reality many of us in the Christian tradition hold, that while we are corrupted by sin, what John Calvin termed, “total depravity,” (it is actually the one thing John Wesley agreed with Calvin on) there remains a spark of divinity. I know this a point of contention in theological discussions, but Scott’s point is a valid one, many people DO want to get better.

I have yet to meet anyone who went about living life in order to sabotage their marriage or career. I also have not met anyone who wanted to be a bad parent or for that matter, wanted to be a bad child. It may even be hard to believe that we pastors generally do not think we are perfect, in fact, most of us know too well how we fall short, yet we still want to get better...to BE better.

But this is where it gets complicated. We cannot do it. On our own we cannot just get better, we cannot just be better people. We start working on it, trying to make up how we will visualize a better “me” and it is not long before our laser beam focus begins to burn our way through everything and everybody for a perfection that is unattainable. We fall short and in the wake, we find we have capsized friends, family and values we claimed matter. I have been there and I have done it. I threw away the t-shirt.

It seems to me that simplicity, as a part of our spiritual formation, our spiritual journey, must hold hands with grace. Grace puts God at the center. The new life Jesus speaks about throughout his teaching points to a life without entanglements in stuff and instead is a life in community, of relationship and of inter-relatedness. What do you hear when Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom...(Matt. 6:33)?” We find in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ teaching on how we are to come into relationship with God when he says, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17 NASB)”

Jesus works with what we have; he works with who we are. There is no care about what you or I have, in fact, Jesus regularly chose hanging out with the most destitute saying they will have the best seats in the Kingdom (Matthew 22:2-9) not because those who “have it all” are not invited, but because they chose not to come. Their new stuff took precedent over new life.

Taking steps toward simplicity begins with recognizing that it is God who took the first steps toward humanity, to you and me.

May I Ask? What is something in you that your are working on but finding little peace or you’re having a hard time showing grace to yourself?

May I Suggest? Are you ready to “throw away the t-shirt?” Consider pulling out an old t-shirt, getting a sharpie and writing on it what is hanging you up, what you’re doing that is keeping you from simplicity. Take your time with it, you may need a few days or weeks before you give it up. Then, when you’re ready, give it up whether that means throwing it in the trash, burning it or burying it, let go of it. Two things take place: 1) You just got rid of an old t-shirt you didn’t need and 2) you brought into the light what you were DOING rather than BECOMING the image of Christ in the world.


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