Complicating Simplicity

by Christopher Heuertz

Many of us think that our personal geographical context justifies our disengagement from the hurt and pain of the rest of the world. We presume that if there were oppressed or starving members in our local churches, we would alter our spending and giving habits enough to keep them from starving to death. But those who go without the basic necessities of life, regardless of their geographical location or proximity, are nevertheless counted as part of our family: Fellow believers in the Sudan or Sri Lanka or Peru are as much an intrinsic part of the body of Christ as are the Methodists, Presbyterians, or Catholics down the street. Even more, though many of those trapped in oppressive and unjust poverty around the world are theologically our brothers and sisters, all are our neighbors. Their misery is our misery, their suffering is—or should be—our suffering.

Open  notepad with concept of right and wrong strategy  on white wooden table

photo by Maximkostenko / iStockphoto.com

An unarguable Christian response to this reality is summed up well in a familiar challenge often ascribed to Gandhi: “Live simply that others may simply live.”

Simplicity is a hard one for me. I try to hide the struggle by masking certain things in my life as certifiably simple, but there are plenty of illustrations that would challenge this.

Though I’m not a homeowner, I believe in book ownership. I have a library full of them. The inevitable first question someone poses on their initial visit to my library is, “Have you read all these books?” I fumble for a tidy way to avoid answering the question with the direct answer, “No,” by saying goofy things like “I’ve read in most of them” or “Some of these are for reference.” But the truth is, I often wonder what the thousands of books on my shelves say about my personal view of simplicity. And that’s only one example of many that I could share.

Christians have done a lot to complicate simplicity. Our internal angst regarding the issue has spun itself off into complex formulas and a myriad of books to help us simplify our lives. Ironically, I’ve actually spent quite a bit of money on books about simplicity and, rightly so, feel further from understanding it after having read them. And I always feel cheated after reading them. Not sure why, but I always expect (maybe hope) that the next book or article on simplicity will offer the magic formula for success. Somehow I think someone will finally be able to wrap a definition around the concept and give me the keys to make it work in my own life. I’m still waiting.

A few years ago, I bought my wife a subscription to the magazine Real Simple. We thought it could be a fresh take on the subject with practical ideas to help our journey. Wow. Who knew we’d have to completely redecorate our home to be “real simple.” Too bad it costs so much to simplify.

Simplicity is hard. Far from simple. And it’s hard to keep it simple when our cultural context insulates and isolates us from the rest of the world … The complexities and corresponding demands on life have often clouded my vision of my reality, a reality that is intrinsically connected to the circumstances of my global neighbors. I find myself falling into a life that rejects simplicity by complicating the very faith that Christ made simple.

This text is taken from chapter 3 of Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God in a Broken World by Christopher Heuertz. Copyright 2008 by Christopher Heuertz. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, USA.

Christopher L. Heuertz is founding partner of Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism, which exists to nurture the integral connection between Christian spirituality and activism. He and his wife Phileena Heuertz spent nearly 20 years traveling to over seventy countries working for women and children victimized by human traffickers in the commercial sex industry with Word Made Flesh, an organization that serves Jesus among the poorest of the world’s poor and for which Chris served as International Director.

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