I’ve recently finished reading Richard J. Foster’s now-classic Celebration of Discipline. It’s a well-written, easy-to-read book which draws deeply on centuries of insight from the true masters of the spiritual disciplines, but I must admit to not being greatly excited about reading it at the outset. I read a good number of these sorts of books as part of my theological degree (and subsequently), and I wasn’t convinced there’d be much in it for me except for the reminder that I don’t engage in most of these disciplines nearly as well as I should. Perhaps that was reason enough to read the book in the first place, but these days I generally try to avoid placing myself in situations where I know feelings of guilt are the inevitable consequence…
For the most part, the book conformed to my expectations. There is, perhaps, a lesson in this of expectations overruling the possibility of truly engaging with a text, but that’s for another time. There was, however, one thing that did grab my attention.
This one point is ‘The Discipline of Simplicity’ (chapter 6 in the book, if anyone’s interested).
The discipline of simplicity is something that both engages and challenges me greatly. I deeply desire to remove unnecessary complexities from my life, but I also find it incredibly difficult to do. I wish very much to be satisfied with a simple life, uncluttered by enticing yet pointless add-ons, but I often fail miserably in this regard. I am attracted by minimalism and the subtlety of understatement, but I dare to say that this is not what might spring to mind should those who know me wish to describe my life and personality.
I have always struggled with these ideas, but I think it came home to me in the most profound way at the wedding of friends of mine. In their (beautiful) vows, they included a line that describes their life together quite well, and which stirs me at every remembrance of it. It went as follows:
I will lead with you a simple, just and peaceful life
as Christ has called us to live.
It is truly a profound vow, and I wish that more would include it in their own wedding ceremonies and, more importantly, live it out (including, especially, myself).
But there it is; a vow to lead a simple life. In the interests of trying to keep this post as simple as is possible for me (and I know I’ve probably already failed at that task), I will simply (there it is!) summarise 10 points that Foster offers in regards to what this discipline of simplicity might look like in practical terms.1 The only thing I’d add before it is to note that the outward working of simplicity must arise out of an inward conviction, but you can read it all for yourself in Foster’s book if you so desire. Anyway, here they are. I kind of hope I’m not the only one who finds them so incredibly challenging:
- Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. This includes cars, houses, clothes (worn until they are ‘worn out’ rather than until they are unfashionable), etc.
- Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. This includes addictive, non-nutritional drinks, food, technology, media, and money.
- Develop a habit of giving things away. ‘Nuff said!
- Refuse to be propagandised by the custodians of modern gadgetry. (I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro Retina…)
- Learn to enjoy things without owning them. This is bucking the trend of a society that considers ownership as the highest value, and values rather, for example, the sharing of public spaces (beaches, parks, libraries, etc.)
- Develop a deeper appreciation of creation. “Marvel in the rich colors of everywhere!” (p. 92).
- Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes. Incurring (any) debt should not be taken lightly.
- Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech. Basically, let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’, and your ‘no’ be ‘no’. It also includes avoiding flattery and half-truths and all forms of obscure speech.
- Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others. The product is not more important than the people involved in the chain of production.
- Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.
(1) The initial sentence in each of the points below is a direct quote from Foster’s book.