SYCAMORE GROVE: Simplicity can be rather complicated. It’s not an aesthetic, nor a drab or dreary lifestyle, nor even living without a refrigerator (which I once attempted). Rather, I’m finding more and more it’s a matter of keeping Christ in the center of my life. When I see this simplicity as a matter of keeping balance on the straight and narrow way – of walking with Jesus toward a destination he directs – rather than as a static state that outwardly resembles either a Zen temple or an Old Order suit, I more gladly suffer the disorder that life provides. Simplicity should allow time and space for surprises and for service. If in my manner of living, my speech, and my apparel I somehow lose our expression of gladness and thankfulness, I would guess that I’ve also lost my simplicity.
Curiously, moving to a new and slightly smaller apartment has caused me to reorganize, reevaluate, and simplify my manner of living. In doing so, I’m finding a renewed vitality and strength. Keeping priorities in focus is another form of simplicity – and an empowering one.
Sincerity in speech means being willing to say “no” distinctly and to take unpopular stands. It involves a readiness to voice irritations and hurts, rather than masking them.
JANE’S FALLS: Outwardly, my lifestyle would appear to many people as simple – even austere or severe – and my modesty of apparel would tend toward the drab or even seedy. There is a big difference between self-negation, which would deny the goodness of God’s creation, and partaking of the Bread of Life.
This insight was emphasized when, after returning from a trip that included a visit in an Old Order Mennonite home, I realized that even with my computer and stereo, my household was plainer than theirs, comparatively lacking in colorful and comforting touches such as living plants, afghans, and samplers on the walls.
Since then, I’ve been becoming aware of the dimensions of a tension within me; one side desires the community symbolized by Old Order plainness, and another is nurtured in expressive flair. I’m recognizing that this second side has been deeply repressed in recent years, as much by a feeling of poverty as by any religious concern. (As a profession, journalists are being paid even less than teachers these days; as a result, it becomes very easy for me to embrace a “simplicity” that rejects any form of monetary expenditure.)
Coming to grips with some very basic practices, such as ordering well-made and styled clothing that is both simple and expressive, has been an unexpectedly liberating exercise, one that helps me overcome feelings of victimization and deprivation in America’s highly materialistic society. When these things become personal idols, then we need to worry.