An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
by Jen Hatmaker on December 26th, 2011
For some time, I’ve had this feeling messing with my faith. That one when you’re trying really hard and adhering to most of the rules and checking a lot of boxes, I mean, some boxes that seem really important, legit boxes, and yet…I don’t know. Something feels wrong. The mechanism is off. The parts are not creating the whole like people said it would. And despite my best efforts to kick that self-condemnation thing, I can't help but think:
"This foreign policy stuff is a little frustrating."
To the other 99%, it’s probably obvious, but for me in my privileged 1% demographic, it left me puzzled and frustrated and discouraged. A bunch of my generation, millions if you want to get nitpicky, up and left the church over it, because the template didn’t end up changing the world or even changing lives. It left us with a laundry list of behaviors but conspicuously ignored way too many elephants in the room to be taken seriously. For me, the tension had many facets:
Why are we still starving for nourishment after our sixth Bible study in a row? How can people supposedly filled with the Spirit be so enamored with the luxuries of this world to the detriment of the other 99% who suffer so? How can be the richest people on earth still be so unhappy? Does my craving for more neutralize the enough that Jesus says He is? If I'm patterned after my Savior, why does my life look exactly like everyone else's, with the exception of some stellar church attendance? The tension finally pinpointed here:
As believers in the western church, how can we have so much and do so little with it?
We have so freaking much. So much money, education, resources, opportunities, knowledge, possessions, gifts, consumer power, privileges, advantages. We have every tool at our disposal, yet we are chronically plagued by ailments - social, spiritual, physical, emotional. Good reader, hands up if your heart is too peaceful, your life too simplified, your hands too generous, your spirit too content, your space too sacred, your stuff too unimportant, your devotion to Jesus too concentrated. Millions of voices are raising, some publicly, some in private turmoil still searching for the words, saying:
Enough with the obscene excess while the rest of the world is burning down outside our windows. Enough with the waste as 25,000 people die today of hunger, while I throw away another pound of food we didn’t get around to eating. Enough with the debt, the spending, the amassing, the irresponsibility, the indulgence, the fake discipleship, the rat race, the hamster wheel, the power and positioning and posturing with a hunger still for more, more, more, all the while pretending to follow a Jesus who didn’t even have a place to lay his head.
This started making me crazy. I just wanted to be more like Jesus...except when I didn't.
For the love of Michael, it's such a battle to be human and love Jesus well, isn't it? For people mired in luxury and privileges, the gospel is dangerously simple. It completely fails to secure our station. It's like it doesn't even care. It doesn't offer the exemptions I'm comfortable with or the clauses that keep everything decent. Worse, it outright threatens a bunch of things I like. I mean, I really like them and Jesus doesn't seem to give a flip. In fact, he talks kind of ugly about rich people and seems to think we will have the very hardest time finding his kingdom... the.very.hardest.time. Harder than a camel fitting through the eye of a needle. Harder than that. I'm no scientist, but one of these things appears harder, and Jesus chose the other one.
Now I'm freaked out, because Jesus also said, listen, a bunch of people think they are following me, that they "get" the gospel, but they so don't and are actually extremely self-deceived because you cannot love God and money. I'm not even playing. You cannot. You cannot say you love me yet hate your brother. That makes you a liar, not a disciple. The way is narrow. Kate Moss narrow. Few will find it, and the richer you are, sorry, but the harder it's going to be for you to actually give up everything you have and follow me, because you have so much to lose.
This stuff makes me hyperventilate, not just because Jesus said it, but because I feel it.
So my little family said, God, if too much stuff is standing in the way of your kingdom coming in our lives, then help us break up with it. If it has stolen our allegience and hijacked our obedience, give us the courage to wage war against everything that is ruining us for your gospel, substituting comfort for bravery, aquiring for sharing, appearances for obedience, personal glory for worship.
A seven-month experimental mutiny against excess, tackling seven areas of overconsumption in the spirit of a fast; a fast from greed, irresponsibility, apathy, and insatiability. Each area boiled down to just seven choices for a month:
Only seven foods for a month. Only seven pieces of clothes for a month. Give away seven things we own a day for a month. Eliminate seven forms of media for a month. Adopt seven substantial habits for a greener life. Spend money in only seven places. Practice "seven sacred pauses" a day and observe the Sabbath...a deeply reduced life to find a greatly increased God.
I don't know how else to talk about 7 other than to say it changed our lives. The discipline of fasting from such cherished, abused luxuries was transformative in the most difficult, painful, beautiful way. It shined a spotlight on dark corners, corners I wanted hidden and kept from scrutiny. 7 held my life up to God's Word and said, "One of these things is not like the other." It pried our eyes open to needs and abuses and the far reaching effects of unchecked consumerism, and it would not let them close again in ignorance or obstinance, I tell you. It hurt. We bled out in parts. We celebrated in others. We pushed through the chaos of repentence and found liberation waiting on the other side.
I put it so humbly, so gently in your hands.
I simply cannot tell you how much I wish I could control your reaction to 7. With every thump of my beating heart, I hope you'll receive it like I'm offering it. This is not a template. This is not a formula. This is not a guilt-mongering, sanctimonious rant. 7 is not a prescription. I wrote it humbly, saturated in repentance, face down.
I wish I could sit next to you as you read it and explain things better, and then we could talk about it for hours, dreaming and scheming together. I wish you understood that my life is messy and so often I still feel like I am barely failing forward. I wish you would stop posting on Twitter and Facebook about how reading 7 on your Kindle makes you feel weird. Stop saying your Kindle makes you feel bad, man. I have a Kindle. Do you understand what I am saying?
This so isn't about some getting it wrong and us getting it right, because we are still struggling and wrestling and trying to choose 'dying to self' each day but often choosing just 'plain self' instead. I also wish I could stop you from turning a critical eye toward my little family, because writing this from the middle of the pack meant setting myself up as a hypocrite for everyone to scrutinize. And you'd be right. You would be so right, Jack.
That's why this cannot be about me. I'm a barely passable representative of the gospel. I'm struggling with the same tension and the same sin issues and the same double standards as everyone else. I just happened to have a laptop and a willing publisher and an editor who deleted all the ellipses I included. Please let's not compare or judge or self-condemn. Oh my stars, no self-condemnation, do you hear me? If you take the guilt route I will jump into an icy river and drown myself. Like I wrote in 7: Don't imagine I'm writing from the cardboard house I chose to live in next to the homeless refugees I feed with money diverted from our health insurance. Everyone be cool.
7 is for my brothers (yes it is, dudes...this is no chick book) and sisters who are looking around saying, "Something feels wrong about being at the top of the food chain and still clamoring for one more rung." I'm saying that. A bunch of you are saying that too. We are in this together. I have this vision of thousands, millions of us throwing wrenches in the machine and refusing complicity in the ravaging of the earth and its precious inhabitants. I see us transitioning bravely from the screaming voice that yells ME to the quiet one whispering we, the marginalized voice of the international community we belong to. I see us grabbing our friends and families and dreaming up ways to unhook from the system; I envision late night discussions between couples and roommates and sisters asking "what if?". I imagine a generation realizing that private consumer choices have social consequences and public outcomes, and when Jesus called the poor his brothers and sisters and our neighbors, those relational metaphors included deep ramifications for the way we spend our time, our money, our lives.
This is for people who are just ready. Maybe you've managed the tension as long as you can, and it's breaking you. Or you walked away from the church, hungry for Jesus but disenfranchised from a system that builds 60 million dollar buildings while the earth is groaning for intervention from the Bride. Perhaps you haven't even had the words yet, but your spirit is restless, roving. You could be like me and Brandon; frustrated with the ethos of the church, but in our most honest moments admitting we are part of the problem. Maybe you are looking at your storage unit, holding things that can't even fit into your house anymore, wondering what the point of all this is. Or you are camped under the steeple and still can't find God.
I believe something exciting is happening. I see it everywhere; I hear its whispers. And not just from the young revolutionaries, but from soccer moms, pastors, men in suits, students, urbanites, country folk, old, young, left, right, Christ-followers everywhere. God is stirring and moving us together. He wants to save our lives and save the world, and if the treasures of this earth are holding us back from the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit, setting our lives ablaze and sending us to the ends of the earth, Good News in the flesh like Jesus, then maybe it's time to wage war.
Join me. Let's start a little revolution.
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