Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Reason for the Attitude: Why Lifestyle is Important

I talk a lot about being minimal, frugal, green, and slave-free, living in a way that is respectful to the environment, other people, and you and your family. I follow some awesome blogs by (mostly) moms who have gone this route too, and the one magazine I subscribe to, Better Homes and Gardens, is my guilty pleasure in finding style ideas that I can do myself or find in thrift stores. But the question that hangs in the air is, why?

I've been this way for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I thought it would be most efficient for us to wear swim suits (because you can get wet or muddy and it doesn't matter--I was never apt at stylishness) and live in a forest on the seashore: so we could have the fun of the beach and the mountains, and sleep from hammocks in the trees, which would also provide us with food. It would be simple, fun and easy. Right?

My mom and dad are both organized people, and they had a knack for getting us to join the cleaning. We had "ten-minute tidy" before bed where things would be at least marginally cleaned and swept up; they weren't unreasonable. But often when they'd put us to bed and gone to the kitchen, I would sneakily finish putting things away until everything was perfect using the light of the cracked-open door. And I have more stories too--like when a junior high assignment asked me to responsibly plot out what I'd do with a million dollars, and I wrote that I would pay off my Dad's school debts, buy a Starwars Lego set I'd been wanting, and give the rest away. Or how I've always decorated with nature, because when you bring nature indoors you're most likely to appreciate it outdoors and seek to preserve it.

In reality, my journey with minimalism/frugalism/environmentalism/abolition* was one of going backwards: learning to calm down, prioritize, and be responsible without pissing everyone else off. I lived with a total of 12 different housemates during my 3 years of college (I moved a lot and lived with large groups of people) and not all of them were gung-ho like me. That didn't bother me; but it got difficult when my habits and someone else's interfered with each other. I've had to learn to be okay with certain things and to relax about mess.

There were two main lessons I needed to learn. One was that a little cleanliness and disorganization is okay. The world will not explode. I used to fold my underwear and socks in the same order after each wash--and I wore my underwear in the same order, too (socks had to match the outfit). I wore my jeans alternating: pair A one day, pair B the next. Nowadays my drawer is a mess--and yet it takes me less time to grab something and go.

The second thing I learned was from my husband: when you need something, buy a quality brand/version. It will last longer, causing you to spend less long-term, waste less, spend less money on slave-made or environmentally-impactful items, and need less stuff.

But while I've gained wisdom and become a nicer, more peaceful person to be around, I haven't relaxed my passion for living with less stuff, and cheaper, greener, slave-labor-free stuff. The difference between my lifestyle now and the practical daydreams of my 9-year-old self is that now I have a reason for why I do it.

I don't need more stuff because I have a place in the kingdom of God.

Back in the day, the Jewish people thought that the better person you were, the more stuff God would give you. So when this upstart rabbi Jesus came through and said that the rich have a harder time entering the kingdom of God, they were like, "What???" Who on earth can be in God's kingdom if not for the rich? Jesus replied, "
Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life."

Jesus isn't saying you should leave your family, ignore them, hate them, etc. He's saying, "if you're not afraid of losing these things because of me..."
In other words, if you stop worrying about having enough food to eat, pretty clothes to wear, a nice house that has all the appliances to make life easier, a smartphone, a nice car, making sure your kids think you're cool, being always in the approval of your spouse, giving your family the best of technology... Jesus is all in favor of good family relations, and says so in other places. He's not saying not to love your family, or even your stuff, but rather, love me more.

Here's the thing. I can tell you right now that God's not a forbidding God. He's not the sort to put a bunch of don't's out there. He wants us to thrive and enjoy our lives. He fricking created us in a paradise--and us perfect, too! So when he says "don't," it's because doing so would hurt us, cause us or others not to thrive, and keep us from enjoying all that life has. God doesn't tell us to give all this up because he likes us to be deprived. Rather, he's offering something better.

Instead of the awesome stuff of this life--which, enjoyable as it is, always seems to make people inevitably unhappy (studies show that the richer you are, the less content you feel)--we're getting what makes us truly, even more, happy and satisfied: eternal life. That doesn't mean just living forever in some place somewhere. It's far more tangible than that. God is renewing this earth so that it's all good, so that there's no more taint or dissatisfaction--all the bad is going to be sucked out, leaving us with the good stuff. A crazy awesome house perfect for having guests and a garden where you can't kill anything, no matter how black your thumb. Smartphones you can't imagine and all the resources available to you to make your own apps or whatever. The ability to endlessly learn and create and enjoy. Forever.

I believe that when I forgo something here, I'm not missing out, because I'll have even better later. I can forgo that phone because it has parts that were made, mined, built, or refined by slaves, and it's okay, because I'll have cooler gadgets in heaven. It's okay if I never find my dream house, or have to forgo it because we can't afford it. I'm going to build, from the ground up, my own house, perfectly to order, later. It's okay if I have to deal with some discomfort and difficulty. It's worth it.

And it's not that far off, either; it's not like I'll live more than another eighty years. I think the stuff of heaven is worth it. It's certainly more than eighty times better than what we have now.

God doesn't say don't enjoy your stuff, and the point of this blog post isn't to make you feel guilty because you do have your dream house or whatever. That's awesome! The Bible says we should work hard and enjoy the fruits of our labors. God made us to enjoy joy life now. The Kingdom of God doesn't start later, it starts today. So that's awesome you can finally afford a kitchen aide! Enjoy it and don't feel guilty!

But God also calls to us to join with him as he makes the kingdom of God a reality for all people. That means helping seek justice for those who are oppressed, helping feed and clothe and give to those who are poor, down on their luck, or homeless, and valuing the love and joy we can bring to others over the love and joy we can find for ourselves. Save your money instead of spending it all, so that you will have something to give to those in need.

It also means seeking justice for the environment: he made this world and he loves it. He knows its beauty better than we do. Find ways to preserve the environment. Preserve wild areas, endangered species, the atmosphere, agricultural areas, dirt, the water table, crop diversity, wildlife diversity, native species, and everything else.

Last of all, God wants us to enjoy the kingdom, but we have to remember that the 'bad stuff' is still lurking and hasn't been all sucked out yet. That means we can still fall prey to things like gluttony; we can over-enjoy, start to enjoy the having instead of the using and doing and being together--and then we are no longer satisfied, and the purpose is defeated. If you keep yourself from getting to attached to the wrong things, you'll be able to be attached to the right things; and sometimes keeping yourself from getting attached means giving it away, not buying it, denting/scratching it so it's not brand new, or what have you. We need to tangibly act, or else our intention is worthless. If your hands aren't in the right place, your heart being in the right place is powerless.

The secret to Life isn't things, but relationships. 'Things' are there to help relationships be fun and go new places. If we learn that now, we'll be more and more able to enjoy the kingdom of God that is breaking in upon us.

"The kingdom of God is here!"


* Of slavery. Twenty-seven million people are enslaved today, a large percentage to create the products we use every day and the rest to be used as sex objects. In case you were wondering, 9-11 million people were taken from Africa during the entire African slave trade. Even including those born into slavery later, the number doesn't reach 27,000,000--and we are talking about around 150 years vs. today alone.
You think you'd have known if things were that bad, but the fact is, it just doesn't make headline news. Stories about the horror of slavery in our day have been in the news quite a lot, actually; you just have to dig past the first page. You think it happens to other people, but I can guarantee this affects you too. Do you have a cell phone? You've supported slave labor without even knowing it.