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A Compelling Case For Less in an Age of More

A Compelling Case For Less in an Age of More

The people at Apple are geniuses. The App Store was the start to this storm of micro-transactions where one little $.99 purchase was really not that big of a deal. And in that “not-that-big-a-deal” approach the creep of a little bit more begins to swell into a wave as that decimal point begins its shift to the right. The other aspect that makes them geniuses, albeit evil geniuses, is slowing down older phones. In another way this is furthering that idea of the creep of a little bit more. My phone is just too slow and old now, I need a new one. And it would be great if it was a little bit bigger.

Recently, I wrote a piece on the idea of stability in a culture of transience. I believe asking questions about our own rootedness to community, to place and to people are valuable. But I also wonder if that is only one side of the coin worth examining? Is there a connection to the creep of more, the creep of new? Should we pair together the need for stability with the need for simplicity?

I do not believe it is a stretch to say that we live in a culture of affluence. It is a culture that attempts to stir in us a desire, a need even, for a little bit more.

For all of us this will probably look a little bit different. I really like books. My office is pretty much one big Ikea bookshelf with a little room for a computer. I live in a 1,100-square-foot home and feel the need for more space. If we just had another 500 square feet, we would be great. Hey, it would also mean a bigger tax deduction and we could afford a larger house anyway. Or perhaps it is money. If I could just be paid a little bit more we could get out of debt faster. With a little bit more money we could take our family on vacation. We could this, we could that, how would you fill in the blank? What does your heart “just want a little bit more of”? These are all possibly good things but they also could unintentionally create or foster a heart of more in us.

Perhaps you are familiar with the story surrounding John D. Rockefeller. As the first American billionaire, he was asked how much is enough. His words now ring throughout history, “Just a little bit more.” Sure I am not Rockefeller, definitely never will be. But that creep of a little bit more is deeply embedded in our culture and deeply embedded in my own heart. How about yours? This is why, at least for myself, I need to ponder the idea of simplicity in our culture of affluence. Another word for that is contentment. Contentment with what I already have. To bring these ideas into the light, to bring the truth of my heart for wanting a little bit more into the light, helps me see the real picture. It reveals the dangerous and manipulative ways our hearts and culture attempt to train us away from simplicity and contentment.

James K.A. Smith unpacks some of this in his book, Desiring the Kingdom. In the chapter discussing culture he illustrates how quickly “that new jacket we couldn’t wait to wear to school somehow already seems a bit dingy in just a couple months (or less); the latest and greatest mobile phone that seemed to have “everything” is already lacking something by the summer …”

Again, not necessarily bad things, but are they aiming our hearts toward the creep of a little bit more? You are probably familiar with Jesus’ words concerning money. It is not a bad thing, but the love of money is the issue. I believe it is the love, the longing, the aiming, the desire for more that we might need to wrestle with. Could this even be—dare I say it—idolatry?

Do you ever walk through someone else’s house and comment how you love it and would love something like this or that? Or perhaps you say that about person’s car or other stuff? Whether we call this jealousy, envy, idolatry, etc., the key is admitting this deep desire for more.

How do we begin the conversation around this idea of just a little bit more? Perhaps, there are some questions we can begin with. How do I keep my heart in check when I sense the creep of a little bit more? How do I practice contentment and simplicity in my daily life? There will be many ways to try this. I might recommend reading Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity.

Foster writes that simplicity begins with an inward focus and unity centered around Christ. He goes on to unpack this inward “attitude” in three ways.

First, we learn that what we have is a gift from God.

Second, we learn that it is God’s business, not mine, to care for what we have. This sounds counterintuitive but the goal is one of trust.

Finally, we foster an inner attitude when we make our stuff available to others.

I believe this makes a good start, but Foster presses further by writing, “The inner reality is not a reality until there is an outward expression.” Part of applying the concepts of simplicity and contentment does require us to address the physical, the reality around us. This of course can get a little more tricky and feel a little more like meddling. But I believe Christ meddles. And as followers of Christ, we must ask what are tangible and practical ways we can aim our hearts and our lives toward simplicity and stability.

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