Every now and then I find a book with so much wisdom in it that I just want to download every page straight to my brain. And also copy and paste the entire book into my blog so that you all can become wise with me.
7- An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker is one of those books. (I’ve actually found a few of those books recently- so be prepared for more book reviews 🙂 ) If you haven’t read this gem, I recommend you cruise on over to Amazon or your local library and get your hands on a copy right away.
7 looks at excess and consumerism in American culture in a way that is challenging without making you feel guilty. The author is a pastor’s wife and the book does spend a fair amount of time looking at consumption through Biblical eyes, but I think this would be an interesting read even if you’re not down with Jesus. The book documents a project Jen took on. It started when she noticed excess in her own life and became bothered by facts like this: “How can I be socially responsible if unaware that I reside in the top percentage of wealth in the world (you probably do too: Make $35K a year? Top 4 percent. $50K? Top 1 percent). Excess has impaired perspective in America; we are the richest people on earth, praying to get richer. We’re tangled in unmanageable debt while feeding the machine, because we feel entitled to more. What does it communicate when half the global population lives on less than $2 a day, and we can’t manage a fulfilling life on twenty-five thousand times that amount? Fifty-thousand times that amount? It says we have too much, and it is ruining us.”
So she said enough.
She started this project and focused on one area of excess for each of 7 months: Food, Clothes, Possessions, Media, Waste, Spending, Stress. During the food month, she ate only 7 foods…for an entire month. During the Clothes month, she wore only 7 articles of clothing. She gave away 7 things every day during Possessions month and shut down 7 types of Media during media month. During Waste month she developed 7 eco-friendly habits, during Spending month she limited her spending to 7 different vendors, and during Stress month she took 7 pauses throughout the day to meditate and pray.
The author is a blogger and the book is written in a blog-type format that is very easy to read. And she’s hilarious. You never feel as if she’s preaching because she documents her failures as much as her lessons learned. Reading through her journey was really humbling; I couldn’t help but reflect on how I can make changes in my own life.
There’s no way I could tell you about this book better than the author writes it, so here are a few excerpts taken straight from her pages. Soak it up.
“Just because I can have it doesn’t mean I should.
…The counterattack to this perspective involves a list of objections easily accessible to the standard American consumer:
- It’s no big deal.
- I can afford this.
- I’ve worked hard for my money, so I spend it how I want.
- I want this.
- I deserve this.
- Other people spend way more.
- I still have money in the bank.
So we spend…and amass and indulge item by item, growing increasingly deaf to Jesus who described a simple life marked by generosity and underconsumption.”
“The Earth is groaning and we’re putting coffee bars in our thirty-five million dollar sanctuaries. Just because we can have it doesn’t mean we should. I marvel at how out of place simple, humble Jesus would be in today’s American churches.”
“Shall we stop imagining these sad, sorry rich people belong to a different demographic? Look at our houses, cars, closets, our luxuries; if we are not rich, then no one is. If we aren’t swept up in entitlement, indulgence, and extravagance, then Jesus is a fool and let’s get back to living. If tithing the minimum and consuming the rest is okay, then we can dismiss Jesus’ ideas and act obsessed about other stuff he said. But what if? What if we are actually called to a radical life? What if Jesus knew our Christian culture would design a lovely life template complete with all the privileges and exemptions we want, but even with that widespread approval, he still expected radical simplicity, radical generosity, radical obedience from those with ears to hear, eyes to see?”
“The reason a shirt is $4 is because a worker was paid $.10 to make it; insistence on the cheapest prices is at the expense of freedom or living wages for workers.”
“What would the early church think if they walked into some of our buildings today, looked through our church web sites, talked to an average attender? Would they be so confused? Would they wonder why we all had empty bedrooms and uneaten food in our trash cans? Would they regard our hoarded wealth with shock? Would they observe orphan statistics with disbelief since Christians outnumber orphans 7 to 1? Would they be stunned most of us don’t feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, care for the sick, or protect the widow? Would they see the spending on church buildings and ourselves as extravagantly wasteful while twenty-five thousand people die every day from starvation? But listen early church, we have a monthly event called Mocha Chicks. We have choir practice every Wednesday. We organize retreats with door prizes….We don’t drink or say the F word. We go to Bible study every semester. (‘And then what, American Church?’) Well, we go to another one. We’re learning so much….I think the early church would cover their heads with ashes and grieve over the dilution of Jesus’ beautiful church vision. We’ve taken His Plan A for mercy to an injured lost planet and neutered it to clever sermon series and Stich-And-Chat in Fellowship Hall, serving the saved. If the modern church held to its biblical definition, we would become the answer to all that ails society. We wouldn’t have to baby-talk and cajole and coax people into our sanctuaries through witty mailers and strategic ads; they’d be running to us…We’ve made it acceptable for people to do nothing and still call themselves Christians.”
“Twenty-five years ago you’d be hard pressed to find a bottle of water for sale, but thanks to a clever industry who repackaged basic tap water and sold it to a society of convenience as a superior option, as if they collected it from the runoff of the Colorado Rockies, we now consume 8.6 million gallons of bottled water a year, at only a wee cost increase of 240 to 10,000 times the price of tap water….For the bargain price of a dollar, I receive sixteen ounces of tap water and contribute to the waste crisis.”
It’s not all that heavy, but the heavy stuff is what really hit home for me so that’s what I wanted to share.
So often we read articles or see funny comics about the 1% in America. Or read about how the rich keep getting richer and the poor get poorer. We look at the politicians or the corporate CEOs and see them as the evil bad guys, the ones who keep money away from poor little us that just can’t get ahead. And there is some validity to that.
But I wonder what my lifestyle, what most anyone’s American lifestyle, looks like to the mother whose child is literally dying from starvation? To the family that can’t afford a $5 shot that would save lives? To the school children who walk miles every day to get clean water? Aren’t we all rich? To the world, we are all corporate CEOs. And what are we doing with it? Spending it on cars and more clothes and food that we throw away. It is seriously shameful. It’s shameful when we do it and it’s shameful when the church does it.
I am making a conscious effort to be a responsible consumer. That means reducing what I buy. That means knowing where the stuff I do buy comes from. That means supporting responsible, ethical companies, even if it means paying a little more- because by paying less, I am saving a buck but likely supporting bad working conditions. I’ll be able to pay more since I’m buying less and managing what I do have well. That means living a simple life that allows me flexibility to do what I am called to do- serve others. That means taking care of this beautiful Earth that’s been given to us. That means spending less time in front of screens and more time with people.
Will you join me?