Book Review – Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal

I came across this book when I was a serving on the Churchwide Program Committee for the Church in Society Unit.  I have been intrigued by the concept of simplicity since college, when I wrote a paper on Simple Living for one of my classes.  When writing my paper, I focused primarily on the Amish and Quaker tradition – one book I read was called “A Plain Life: Walking My Beliefs”.  The author walked a 120 miles across Ohio to turn in his driver’s license, and he joined a Quaker community.  I was intrigued by my research, and thought I could for certain pare down the life I lived, but was never completely comfortable with the thought of “a plain life”.  I’ve had this book on my shelf for over a year now, with every intention of reading it – but never found the time.  The day I returned from Vocare, I decided that I was going to make my time of unemployment, regardless of how long or short it was, a time of discernment and sabbatical.  So I went to my library upstairs and glanced at the books – this one basically screamed at me to take it off the shelf and open it.  I’m glad I did. 

The book is written in journal format – so we experience her own journey with discovering what it means to live simply.  In her introduction, she poses the question “What is necessary?” and returns to this thought throughout the book.  I was impressed by how balanced her simple life is.  No, she doesn’t own a car – but she doesn’t mind to borrow or rent one when she needs one for long trips or chores that require the use of a vehicle.  She doesn’t own a TV, or an ipod, but she did get a cell phone for use at work.  She does own a washer and a dryer – although she tries to hang dry her clothes as much as possible.  I love her illustration of the difference in frugality and simple living.  Frugality is not wanting to spend money, period.  Simple living is about so much more than that.  Simple living is about living a lifestyle that illustrates God’s culture.  Think what the world would be like if we asked ourselves before every purchase “Is this something that lifts up the name of God?”  She values experience over items – after all, experiences are what shape us through our lives.  We will take our experiences with us.  The things will be left here for someone else to deal with.

What I learned while reading this book is how simplicity is choice we have to make daily, and sometimes hourly.   I can get Starbucks and live a simple life – if I make it a special treat, or if I use “Starbucks time” as a time to build community with others.  But simply buying a latte just because I’m driving by a Starbucks and it sounds good, is more consumerish than God-culturish.  This book is one that I want to put on my list to read at the start of every season – to remind myself of what living simply means, and to measure how far (or not) I’ve come in sustaining simplicity in my own life.  It holds very important lessons for us, especially as we struggle financially and prepare for a move to a very consumer-driven city. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.  If you’re interested and want to purchase your own copy, check out Augsburg Fortress – it’s not yet available at Amazon.

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