Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective edited & compiled by Michael Schut (Part III: Random Passages That I Liked)

I am a reader.  I have earned several degrees, practiced a profession where reading was a mainstay, and then I spent the last part of my professional career as an academic where I read even more.  And on top of all those motivations, I also enjoy reading for pleasure. 

I've realized over the years that I'm a fairly kinesthetic learner.  I cannot just sit still and read.  To take in what I'm reading, I have to underline, highlight and/or make notes.  When I read a book or article, I like to flag what is most of interest to me and ideas I want to come back to. 

I took this approach when reading Simpler Living, Compassionate Life  for the first time years ago.  If you saw my copy of the book, it is marked up with a lot of yellow highlighting.

I am a fairly prolific highlighter, so I cannot share with you everything I flagged when reading the book.  But I'd like to share with you some passages that particularly got my attention and made an impression on me.  They are sort of a synopsis of not just this one particular book, but of the things that drew me to the concept of voluntary simplicity more generally.

My hope is that these random passages will whet your appetite and you'll read this amazing book as well.  In fact, I include page numbers so you can read these passage in their full context. 

And in doing so, maybe you'll find your own passages in the book that impact you in some meaningful way.  Enjoy!

p. 26 "Americans comprise only 5% of the world's population but consume 30% of its resources."

p. 27 "While voluntary poverty can be a beautiful offering of one's life, poverty itself can crush not only the body but the spirit as well."

p. 27 "Perhaps the prophetic word that simple living has to offer materialism centers around justice and freedom:  justice that can be lived through reduced consumption and more equitable distribution of the earth's finite resources, and acting justly toward the rest of creation:  freedom that allows each of us to move from life-draining acquisitiveness toward a joyful, generous spirit that recognizes the worth of all God's creatures."

p. 27  "But in our driven busyness we do not take time to listen.  We no longer know who we are and the 'still, small voice' is lost in the cacophony of voices urging us on to the next task.  Lacking the ability to listen and follow God's voice and our own inner direction, we become increasingly susceptible to the marketing of the good life.  We lose touch with the understanding that who we are is larger than simply what we do.  Into this hyper-productive life walks simplicity.  Simplicity requires us to slow down, to consider how our lives reflect who we are and what we value. . . If the abundant life is more than just consuming, it is also more than just producing."

p. 34 "There is no doubt that some purchases permanently enhance our lives.  But how much of what we consume merely keeps us moving on a stationary treadmill?  The problem with the treadmill is not only that it is stationary, but also that we have to work long hours to stay on it... the consumerist treadmill and long hour jobs have combined to form an insidious cycle of 'work-and-spend.'  Employers ask for long hours.  The pay creates a high level of consumption.  People buy houses and go into debt; luxuries become necessities; Smiths keep up with Joneses. . . Capitalism has brought a dramatically increased standard of living, but at the cost of a much more demanding worklife."

p. 35 "The juggling act between job and family is another problem area.  Half the population now says they have too little time for their families.  The problem is particularly acute for women: in one study, half of all employed mothers reported it caused either 'a lot' or an 'extreme' level of stress.  The same proportion feel that 'when I'm at home I try to make up to my family for being away at work, and as a result I rarely have any time for myself.'  This stress has placed tremendous burdens on marriages.  Two-earner couples have less time together, which researchers have found reduces the happiness and satisfaction of a marriage.  These couples often just don't have enough time to talk to each other."

p. 36 "Serious as these problems are, the most alarming development may be the effect of the work explosion on the care of children.  According to economist Sylvia Hewlett, 'child neglect has become endemic in our society.'  A major problem is that children are increasingly left alone, to fend for themselves while their parents are at work. . . Hewlett links the 'parenting deficit' to a variety of problems plaguing our country's youth: poor performance in school, mental problems, drug and alcohol use, and teen suicide.  According to another expert, kids are being 'cheated out of childhood. . . There is a sense that adults don't care about them."

p. 38 "In the past I read books that told me how to get more done during the day, how to find that extra hour so you could study French or learn photography.  I would try to do as many things as I could at one time.  Now I focus on doing less and slowing down.  I try to stop rushing, to practice mindfulness, to practice meditation.  I keep working at it, but still I have that nagging feeling--hurry, hurry."

p. 53 "Our hard and very urgent task is to realize that nature is not primarily a property to be possessed, but a gift to be received with admiration and gratitude.  How differently we would live if we always sensed that the nature around us is full of desire to tell us the great story of God's love, to which it points."

p. 67 "All of us struggle with the place of money in our lives.  There are no easy answers.  Yet whether rich or poor, by either American or global standards, money is surely one of our culture's most prevalent and powerful idols:  promising that which it cannot finally deliver."

p. 67 "Idolatry, whatever its object, represents the enshrinement of any other person or thing in the very place of God.  Idolatry embraces some person or thing, instead of God, as the source and rationalization of the moral significance of this life in the world for, at least, the idolater, though not, necessarily, for anybody else at all."

p. 75 "Now consider our economic system (the 'Big Economy,' Rasmussen, p. 111), the dominant global economy as it has developed in Western culture (and spread through the world).  Rather than a circle, we might envision a line.  At one end, capital, labor, and natural resources are input.  Along the way 'things' are produced, advertising creates a desire for those things, which we then consume.  Along the way, some people reap profits.  But, also along the way, a lot of waste is produced. . . The Big Economy hopes that the Great Economy will somehow assimilate all waste, a hope we now know is futile; the waste generated each year in the United States would fill a convoy of 10-ton garbage trucks 145,000 miles long--over halfway to the moon. . . All inputs (including capital and labor, which are also ultimately dependent on a healthy world) come from the Great Economy, and all wastes return to it.  Yet the Big Economy refers to its effects on the natural world as 'externalities;' that is, these effects are not taken into account within our monetary economy.  Examples of externalities include water pollution, soil erosion, ozone depletion and toxic waste. . . These externalities profoundly affect people and places--in our own backyards and around the world. . . Although economic status plays an important role in the location of toxic waste sites, race is the leading factor."

p. 78 "Worldwide, 40,000 children die of hunger-related disease or malnutrition every day.  If we Americans ate 10 percent less meat (it takes 12 pounds of grain to produce one pound of red meat), enough grain would be saved to more than feed those children (Robbins and Patton, May All Be Fed, chapter 2)."

p. 83 "Adam Smith did not write as a Calvinist theologian, but his view of the human being is not far removed from that of many Scottish Calvinist of his day.  They, too, were suspicious of expecting too much from human sympathy or love.  They recognized with Smith that most people's actions were basically selfish."

p. 88 " We have learned not to impose simple ideals naively on complex situations but to analyze them thoroughly and then find ways to move toward Christian goals within them. . . In our opposition to individualism and to nationalism, we affirm that we as individuals need one another and that nations, too, need one another, as we all need God."

p. 91 "American children under the age of 13 have more spending money--$230 a year--than the 300 million poorest people in the world."

p. 91 "The richest billion people in the world have created a form of civilization so acquisitive and profligate that the planet is in danger.  The lifestyle of this top echelon--the car drivers, beef eaters, soda drinkers, and throwaway consumers--constitutes an ecological threat unmatched in severity by anything but perhaps population growth. . .  Ironically, abundance has not even made people terribly happy.  In the United States, repeated opinion polls of people's sense of well-being show that no more Americans are satisfied with their lot now than they were in 1957.  Despite phenomenal growth in consumption, the list of wants has grown faster still.  Of course, the other extreme from overconsumption--poverty--is not solution to environmental or human problems:  it is infinitely worse for people and equally bad for the environment.  Dispossessed peasants slash-and-burn their way into the rain forests of Latin America, and hungry nomads turn their herds out onto fragile African rangeland, reducing it to desert.  If environmental decline results when people have either too little or too much, we must ask ourselves:  How much is enough?"

p. 97  "The basic value of a sustainable society, the ecological equivalent of the Golden Rule, is simple:  Each generation should meet its needs without jeopardizing the prospects of future generations."

p. 100 "It was not just the greed of corporate shareholders and the hubris of corporate executives that put the fate of Prince William Sound into one ship; it was also our demand that energy should be cheap and plentiful."

p. 119 "To live eschatologically in this sense is not simply to enjoy hopeful images from time to time.  The hope for the Kingdom freed early Christians from concern for success or security in the present order. . . When God is understood as omnipotent, Christians have an assureance of ultimate success for their causes regardless of the most immediate outcome of the efforts.  But, today, we do not perceive God as forcing divine decisions upon the world."

p. 127 "One of the most often-mentioned ways to provide more work is to reduce the work week and spread jobs around.  This can be done in a way that both employees and employers benefit.  For instance, some companies find that people will accept a lower salary if their hourly wage goes up.  Since productivity tends to rise when people work shorter hours, both the people and the company would benefit:  there would be higher productivity for the company and a higher hourly wage for the people."

p. 133 "The aim of sufficiency is that everyone shall have enough of the things that are needed for a reasonably secure and fulfilling life. . . We are concerned first about basic needs: pure water, food and nutrition, clothing, shelter, health care, literacy and some kind of meaningful work to do. . . Individuals do not have identical requirements and likings in order to be happy.  But what any one person may include in the idea of what is sufficient for himself or herself is necessarily limited by the ideas of others about their sufficiency and the recognition that some minimal sufficiency for everyone takes precedence--whenever a choice is necessary--over anyone's right to enjoy a surplus."

p. 137 "Consumerism itself is the substitute, a most unsatisfactory, through addictive, substitute for that which makes human life meaningful and fulfilling--loving, caring relationships with one another, in which we accept and affirm our dependence on one another, and all the ways in which we may free each other for everything true and good and creative that each of us has in himself or herself to be or to become.  In short, consumerism is a substitute for community.  The abundance to which Jesus pointed was explicitly not the abundance of possessions.  It was the abundance of the restored relationship, the God-relationship.  It was the freedom to enjoy the community--the giving-and-receiving relationship with one another--for which we were created."

p. 146 "The radical critics of capitalism and promoters of Spartan rusticity among the advocates of the simple life would be well advised to acknowledge that material progress and urban life can frequently be compatible with spiritual, moral, or intellectual concerns."

p. 147 "Simplicity in its essence demands neither a vow of poverty nor a life of rural homesteading.  As an ethic of self-conscious material moderation, it can be practiced in cities and suburbs, townhouses and condominiums.  It requires neither a log cabin nor a hairshirt but a deliberate ordering of priorities so as to distinguish between the necessary and superfluous, useful and wasteful, beautiful and vulgar."

p. 148 "One of Gandhi's American friends once confessed to the Indian leader that it was easy and liberating for him to discard most of the superfluous clutter in his life and his household, but he could not part with his large collection of books.  'Then don't give them up,' Gandhi replied.  'As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, you should keep it.  If you were to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that unsatisfied want would make trouble for you.'  This means that simplicity is indeed more a state of mind than a particular standard of living."

p. 155 "Our freedom from sin allows us to serve others.  Before, all our serving was for our benefit, a means to somehow get right with God.  Only because the grace of God has been showered upon us are we enabled to give that same grace to others."

p. 167 "Consumption patterns of the 'Northern' countries and the 'Western' countries are obscene by global standards, yet there is no apparent end in sight to the guttony. . .Nevertheless, the underlying economic logic of an economy based on unlimited growth remains largely unchallenged in public discourse. . . The reasons for this have as much to do with arguments about social justice as they do with shameless consumerism. After all, growth has become the only means that late capitalism has devised to cope with the increasingly evident problem of inequity."

p. 182 "We are trapped in a maze of competing attachments.  One moment we make decisions on the basis of sound reason and the next moment out of fear of what others will think of us.  We have no unity or focus around which our lives are oriented.  Because we lack a divine Center our need for security has led us into an insance attachment to things.  We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic.  It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality.  We crave things we neither need nor enjoy.  'We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.'  Where planned obsolescence leaves off, psychological obsolescence takes over.  We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. . . Hoarding we call prudence."

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