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Simple living not necessarily simple

 
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1:00 P.M. EST Nov. 19, 2010

Don Logner shovels compost at Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, N.C. Logner is a lay leader at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church. A UMNS file photo by Ronny Perry.
Don Logner shovels compost at Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, N.C. Logner is a lay leader at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church. A UMNS file photo by Ronny Perry.
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John Wesley espoused three simple rules: Do no harm, do good and stay in love with God.

Though these rules sound — and are — incredibly simple, actually practicing them is anything but easy.

“I have a hunger for us to return to some of the original values and lifestyles of the early church and the early Methodist movement,” the Rev. Ryan Wieland, 28, said. He serves Ridley Park United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania.

He cited Acts 2:45 (The Message). “They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.”

Recently, United Methodist Communications asked 4,000 United Methodists how they felt about simple living, using the definition: “a lifestyle characterized by consuming only that which is required to sustain life.”

More than 500 people, both laity and clergy, answered the survey.

Living simply “is necessary for the survival of the planet and humankind, physically and spiritually,” the Rev. Nick Keeney, 31, wrote. He serves Dorranceton United Methodist Church in Kingston, Pa.

Another respondent said mission experiences prove eye opening. “I meet in my mission work persons to whom our surplus represents unimagined riches. Such an imbalance bothers me.”

Sandra Baque checks a row of lettuce in an organic garden at Byron (Calif.) United Methodist Church. A UMNS file photo by John Gordon.
Sandra Baque checks a row of lettuce in an organic garden at Byron (Calif.) United Methodist Church. A UMNS file photo by John Gordon.
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The Rev. Douglas Dean, 64, of Faith United Methodist Church, Oregon, Ohio, agreed. “The ‘simple lifestyle’ is a part of the equation for a ‘balanced life,’” he said.

Different things to different people

For some, living simply offers an opportunity to strengthen one’s spirituality. Others choose this lifestyle to improve their health and alleviate stress, to have more “quality time” with loved ones, to reduce their personal ecological footprint or to save money. Socio-political goals such as conservation, social justice, ethnic diversity and sustainable development motivate some people.

However, talking and actually putting words into practice are two different things.

“In theory, I believe that living simply is what my faith requires, but in fact I don’t make it a priority,” a respondent admitted.

Another commented, “I try to reduce my usage of natural resources and to be more self-sufficient. But I use much more than is really needed to sustain life.”

Several noted that the U.S. infrastructure largely depends on locked-in resource-usage patterns.

“Alternatives to electricity, water, natural-gas usage and garbage recycling are seldom available in ways that have a measurable overall impact,” the Rev. Pat Dunbar, 52, said. She serves Dawsonville (Ga.) United Methodist Church.

“While I may be interested in a simple lifestyle,” she continued, “it is a fight against the very business and government forces we put in place.”

Another mentioned the challenge “for the disciple of Jesus to, step by step, move away from accumulation and move toward simple, Christ-like living.”

One pastor recalled seminary days of living in a tiny apartment, going without in order to afford tuition and eating starchy, cheap food. It wasn’t a match made in heaven.

“The simple life,” that minister said, “is a life of sacrifice, and while it may feed part of the soul, it doesn’t feed the entire soul. ... There has to be time for play and indulgence once in a while.”

Simple living “will not happen by one’s desire or intentions,” one respondent said. One must plan and set priorities for lifestyle changes.

Sometimes that happens when children leave the nest and middle-aged people downsize. “My spouse and I are a long way from living a simple life,” one person in that age bracket said.

“We are a huge work in progress. We have a long, long way to go.”

Teaching by example

Setting a positive example is important, people discover.

“My husband and I try to recycle, reduce, reuse and repurpose fairly consistently,” a clergywoman said. “I try to model our habits to the church body as much as possible.”

Simplicity, respondents pointed out, also involves giving up or paring down everyday technology such as TV and computers and spending time exploring God’s creation.

Stewardship of money, time and “the gifts I have been given” is essential to simple living, older adult Patricia Hatton said. She is a member and the webmaster at New Jersey’s Princeton United Methodist Church.

It is essential, one person said, “that we learn to live simply, but happily.”

Some offered concrete suggestions such as paying cash for purchases, spending time with the family and getting to know the neighbors, “not the fences that separate you.”

“I’m trying to de-junk my home and eat more local foods, which includes canning and freezing,” one said. “I ride a motor scooter whenever possible to conserve gas. I purchase used clothing instead of new. ... I don’t purchase convenience food.”

For some, growing one’s own food is both healthy and economical. However, it is not for everyone, the Rev. Kathryn Woodrow, 50, noted.

“I’d starve if I had to grow my own food,” the pastor of Faith United Methodist Church, Rockville, Md., said. “I’m lucky if I can keep a houseplant alive.”

Perhaps the best advice came from a respondent who kept the answer short and sweet. “Live your life simply as what it is: a gift from God.”

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5489 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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