I’ve been experiencing a lot change recently.
I got married four months ago. I began my master’s program a year ago. I will be applying for PhD programs in the next couple of months. I left Beltway and joined Highland 15 months ago.
But far more than my material circumstances or local contexts have changed: I have changed.
* * *
When I began college, my academic and spiritual selves had no relationship to each other. Academically, I was (unconsciously) steeped in a post-structural worldview. I excelled in my Literature and Theory classes. On the other hand, I was increasingly becoming a Neo-Reformed Charismatic (though I grew up in the Churches of Christ). I’ve written about pieces of that particular journey in other places.
I began to deconstruct this theological/spiritual orientation over the course of my semester in Germany and the following summer largely as a result of a broadening of my worldview. As I pursued upper division classes in my major, and as I took as many upper-level bible/theology courses that I could, my uncritical acceptance of a post-structural approach to text began to take on conscious awareness.
* * *
A few days ago, I attended a Summit session by my friend Kasey McCollum on dislocated exegesis. Essentially, Kasey focused on context and place as instrumental to how we read the scriptures. Or, perhaps more broadly, the text of the world can only be interpreted from preexisting circumstances.
While Kasey talked about reading certain scriptures while at a prison or a school or, really, anywhere but the place you ordinarily read scripture, I began to consider my own location.
In critical theory, the term “location” is used as a metaphor to refer to one’s relationship with the other. My social location or my racial location or my gender location all function as terministic screens that filter my reading of the world. They also serve to confirm or undercut my ethos.
In her book Pastrix (which is fantastic, by the way), Nadia Bolz-Weber notes that “Jesus goes on and on about how we really actually like darkness more than light because, let’s face it, the darkness hides our bullshit. . . being good has never set me free the way truth had. Knowing all of this makes me love and hate Jesus at the same time. Because, when instead of contrasting good and evil, he contrasted truth and evil, I have to think about all the times I’ve substituted being good for truth.”
Hiding beneath our closed eye lids never did anybody any good. And, of course, we can’t know everything from our vantage point, but that was never the point.
* * *
Wendell Berry asks in his essay The Gift of Good Land how you can “love your neighbor if you don’t know how to build or mend a fence, how to keep your filth out of his water supply and your poison out of his air; or if you do not produce anything and so have nothing to offer, or do not take care of yourself and so become a burden? How can you be a neighbor without applying principle–without bringing virtue to a practical issue? How will you practice virtue without skill?”
Berry, of course, means this as literally as possible–which is why he advocates a loss of specialization and a return to the land. And the point he makes is crystal clear: we are all connected, and to follow the Divine law down into its deepest sense–to accord my neighbor the same dignity that I accord myself–will require an acknowledgment (in practice) of this connection.
The problem with the modern industrial machine is how neatly it mechanizes, and thus complicates, people. The cure, I’ve come to discover, is what I am calling simplicity.
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At it’s root, simplicity is concerned with embracing those practices that best enable human flourishing.
Simplicity is multivalent, and there are many traditions that embrace different, and perhaps at times conflicting, methods. Many of these traditions are religious.
In my own practice, I am most shaped by Christian traditions that, in some way, make good sense of these commands:
Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Love thy neighbor as thyself. All people are thy neighbors.
Indeed, Jesus embodies the form of simplicity to which I aspire.
I am most taken with the forms of simplicty embraced by the assorted monastic orders, but the monastic praxis is informed, for me, by several other voices including the following:
the organic and slow food movements
the locavore movement
the classic pastoral
classic spiritual formation
Living simply is a holistic ethic that requires submission in all parts of life. Indeed, like sanctification, I see the transition into simplicity to be a gradual process that will take one’s entire life.
I am convinced, however, that the absence of bad practices does not itself create simplicity. Indeed, abandonment of the bad before pursuit of the good is consigned to failure. Just as a rock lowered into water displaces the water around it, so too the good displaces the bad.
Love displaces sin.
* * *
I suppose, in the end, God’s Spirit fills my heart as I step forward in obedience to love my neighbor. Below I have listed some practices that I (and, of course, Amanda) hope to implement in increasing degrees. Really, truly, the practices below are the natural outflow of my heart.
I changed before I ever generated this list. But, to quote one of my undergraduate bible professors: “Faith works. Kingdom people do kingdom things. Who you are expresses itself in what you do.”
Pray the canonical hours daily.
Weekly attendance at church.
Participation in an intentional community.
Give away what I can.
Pursue authentic relationship with others.
Serve others in tangible ways.
Spend myself among the oppressed.
Extend random, frequent, and true hospitality.
Practice the internal disciplines.
Fast regularly from food and technology.
Work only during work hours.
Work hard while at work.
Work well while at work.
Manage time well.
Grown my own food.
Buy fair trade.
Buy non GMO.
Avoid synthetic chemicals.
Eat small portions.
Cook my own food.
Eat in season.
Use renewable energy.
Check Facebook seldomly.
Watch Netflix in moderation.
Check work email only during work hours.
Check personal email sparingly.
Build with my hands.
Read for pleasure.
Support local business.