Simple Living

5 Simple Living Tips for Millennial Christians

Gajus / Shutterstock.com
Gajus / Shutterstock.com

Jesus was clear.

You cannot serve both God and money.

Throughout my 20s, this was not a problem I thought I struggled with.

First of all, I didn’t perceive myself as having all that much money. So, how could I be serving it? (I deal with the inaccuracy of how I perceive of my own wealth here.)

Second, money was never a part of my thought process when choosing my career. If money wasn’t the motivator for choosing my job, how could I be in danger of “serving two masters?”

It’s been said that one of the greatest tricks devil ever played was convincing most of the world he doesn’t exist. His greatest encore might be wrapping up vice in the midst of a big ball of virtue and letting the whole thing rot from the inside out.

I might not struggle with being a slave to money in the sense that I obsess about how much I make. But, in looking back over the past 10 years of my life, I’ve found myself serving the master of mammon precisely in the ways that I DIDN’T think about money.

Tempted by an Apple

’Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free,
’Tis the gift to come down
where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves
in the place just right,
’Twill be in the valley of love
and delight.

Elder Joseph Brackett penned these words to his famous Shaker dance song in 1848. They captured a way of life of a people who found joy in simplicity.

It has taken the near collapse of our economy to help us remember the truth of these words and to finally wake from a stupor in which we found ourselves addicted to consumption. Even most Christians (both good liberals and good conservatives) had subconsciously adopted a life mission captured by a single word: MORE (and its siblings “bigger,” “better,” and “cooler”).

My own persistent struggle with this was exemplified by my desire for the original iPhone. My old phone was nearing the end of its useful life, and I had been waiting anxiously for Apple’s new phone—it was smarter, better, and cooler than my old not-so-smart phone.

I went to the Apple Store on the day the new iPhone came out. I spent nearly an hour there trying to convince myself that Jesus needed me to buy an iPhone. With a battle raging in my heart and mind over whether I should plunk down $400 for this new phone, I walked to the counter. “Tell me once more about the iPhone’s features,” I begged. Finally I handed the clerk my credit card. And then it happened: My credit card was refused! This should have been impossible. I have great credit and the card is paid off monthly. Perhaps Jesus didn’t need me to have an iPhone after all! The clerk asked if I wanted to try another card. “No!” I replied and quickly left the store with a tremendous sense of relief.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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Cordwood and Community

In nearly 30 years together, neither Linda nor I had built a shelf or a box without something being crooked. How did we talk ourselves into building a cordwood and straw bale cottage? The answers boil down to the twin goals of building community and committing ourselves to live lightly on the earth. Wood for the posts and cordwood walls came from the surrounding land, the straw bales from a local family farm. Scrap sawdust—mixed with lime to keep the critters out—and fireproofed recycled blue jeans serve as insulation. We’ve planted a living roof (that includes 6,000 pounds of compost) to keep us cooler in summer and warmer in winter. And a few tons of local clay, sand, and straw have been laid for an earthen floor that in winter will absorb the warmth of the sun and radiate the heat back at night. Nearby trees and large overhangs will prevent the summer sun from baking us.

How did such inexperienced people accomplish this? With some reading and training, but most of all through the helping hands and spirits of others—people we knew well and friends of friends that we had never laid eyes on before.

This project often has been energizing and hilarious, sometimes exhausting and frustrating. But overall we’ve had a wonderful experience of stepping into the unknown and being encouraged and pulled forward by a community of people who are more and more like family.

Scot and Linda DeGraf worked at Sojourners for a combined total of nearly 20 years. Now both work at Capitol Hill Day School in Washington, D.C. For more information on this project, visit www.rollingridge.net/staffhouse.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2008
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Making It Real

A growing number of Christians, out of a concern for global warming, are finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Others are searching less successfully for ways to create a more authentic embodied faith. The problem is that most resources on embodied faith offer very few practical examples.

Many of my generation were drawn in the early 1980s to the call from Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger to “live more simply that others might simply live.” But as the global economy booms, that call seems to have lost its influence with many Christians.

Besides, while simplifying our lives is important, we won’t likely find a more serious embodied faith just by doing a simpler version of the American dream. We need to reinvent the America dream, not just simplify it. This requires more than a rant against consumerism. We must do a more robust critique of the values underlying the consumer culture.

How many of us unwittingly have allowed aspirations and values of the imperial global shopping mall define for us what is important and what is of value—what is the “good life”? Many of us, in spite of our best intentions, allow the economic aspirations of the workplace or the up-scaling impulses of our middle-class lifestyles to take over our lives. As a consequence, we too often trivialize our faith to little more than a devotional add-on to our “real lives.”

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Sojourners Magazine January 2008
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New and Noteworthy

Instruments of Peace
Catherine Whitmire gathers a cloud of Quaker witnesses in Practicing Peace: A Devotional Walk through the Quaker Tradition to help us live peacefully. Comprised of quotes and short reflections from Quakers across 350 years, the book's six chapters address ways to practice peace in our daily lives, in the world, in the face of evil, and in times of suffering. Each chapter ends with questions for discussion. Sorin Books

Don't Buy It
We're all shopping sinners woefully in need of deliverance, says Rev. Billy (a.k.a. actor and activist Bill Talen). His What Would Jesus Buy: Fabulous Prayers in the Face of the Shopocalypse contains sermons and exhortations to stop shopping and start believing, as well as prayers and ideas for action—all delivered with creative gusto and multiple exclamation points. Public Affairs

A Powerful Force
In Traveling with the Turtle: A Small Group Process in Women's Spirituality and Peacemaking, Cindy Preston-Pile and Irene Woodward invite women's circles to explore empowering images of the Divine and creative ways of making peace and building inclusive communities. This wise, practical book is comprised of 13 two-hour sessions; each contains an outline, with suggestions for rituals and sharing exercises, and notes for facilitators. www.turtle.paceebene.org

Over-Stuffed
What is necessary? Sustaining Simplicity is Anne Basye's record of answering that question. Journal-like in its design and content, the book is composed of short reflections, photos, and bits of artwork that record her questions and challenges as she learns to live with less stuff—but more life and love. A funny and honest look at what a "good life" is really about. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Sojourners Magazine June 2007
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