Mennonite wisdom for Advent

Posted on November 26, 2011 by Anne Basye

In October a friend from Holden Village spent a few days with me on her way to Alaska. It was like having a prophet visit. To my dinner table she brought her life as a worker for the Mennonite Central Committee in El Salvador, as a resident of a Catholic Worker house in Portland, Oregon, and as a peace activist who—like her fellow Mennonites, Quakers, and Brethren—earns only enough to support herself but not so much that she has to pay the ‘war tax.’

Because she doesn’t own a car, she didn’t find my carless life strange. She was fine riding the bus and bikes everywhere and sleeping on the floor of my teeny little house. Many details of my existence that strike people as odd were completely familiar to her. But watching her move through life with such principle sent me back to my Bible of simple living, Doris Janzen Longacre’s 1980 book, Living More with Less.

This classic taps the wisdom of Mennonite missionaries who refined their simple living skills on international assignments and kept living that way when they came home. Like my Alaska-bound friend Lisa, they always, always walked their talk.

Rejecting the term lifestyle, Doris proposed that Christians should seek to live by five Life Standards. Her book offers wise suggestions for implementing each one of these standards:

  1. Do justice. Living by this standard will always draw us more deeply into economics and politics. It’s up to us to draw the lines that link our consumer ways with environmental and justice consequences around the world.
  2. Learn from the world community. Our global partners have a lot to share, if we would only listen instead of continually insisting we know it all! Longacre’s book lifts up “overdevelopment” projects proposed by global Mennonites who would like to minister to North Americans drowning in materialism and “maldevelopment.”
  3. Nurture people. What could happen if we cared more about other people than we cared about price, convenience, or comfort?
  4. Cherish the natural order. What could happen if we remembered that we are stewards, not owners—that God’s world demands our respect, not our thoughtless consumption?
  5. Nonconform freely. What could happen if we were more like my friend Lisa and the Mennonites, and a little less worried about what other people think?

Longacre’s gospel-based Life Standards offer a path out of the lifestyle that is choking us. They are also a tool we can us to “occupy ourselves,” as David Creech suggested (quoting David Brooks) in this post. Occupying ourselves can mean recognizing the consequences of our own habits, actions and purchases instead of reflexively seeking to blame scapegoats.

Mikka said the other day that, from a global perspective, almost all of us reading this blog are the One Percent. Instead of insisting we’re not privileged, asking “who, me?” and pointing fingers, let’s start Advent by following what Longacre calls “the path of health outlined by faith: Repent by recognizing and accepting our guilt, be forgiven, and change!”

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity

 

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