Synopses & Reviews
Chapter OneThe Complexity
of Simplicity"Seek simplicity -- and distrust it.
-- Alfred North Whitehead
Contemporary culture is plagued by the passion to possess. The unreasoned boast abounds that the good life is found in accumulation, that "more is better." Indeed, we often accept this notion without question, with the result that the lust for affluence in contemporary society has become psychotic: it has completely lost touch with reality. Furthermore, the pace of the modern world accentuates our sense of being fractured and fragmented. We feel strained, hurried, breathless. The complexity of rushing to achieve and accumulate more and more frequently threatens to overwhelm us; it seems there is no escape from the rat race.
Christian simplicity frees us from this modern mania. It brings sanity to our compulsive extravagance, and peace to our frantic spirit. It liberates us from what William Penn called "cumber." It allows us to see material things for what they are -- goods to enhance life, not to oppress life. People once again become more important than possessions. Simplicity enables us to live lives of integrity in the face of the terrible realities of our global village.
Christian simplicity is not just a faddish attempt to respond to the ecological holocaust that threatens to engulf us, nor is it born out of a frustration with technocratic obesity. It is a call given to every Christian. The witness to simplicity is profoundly rooted in the biblical tradition, and most perfectly exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ. In one form or another, all the devotional masters have stressed its essential nature. It is a natural and necessary outflow of the Good News of theGospel having taken root in our lives.
While it is important to stress that Christian simplicity is more than a mere reaction to the modern crisis, it should also be underscored that simplicity is keenly relevant to the massive problems of our world. We are witnessing poverty and starvation on a scale unprecedented in human history. By the time we fall asleep tonight another ten thousand individuals will have died of starvation -- over four hundred per hour. Many more millions live on the brink of extinction -- malnourished, aimless, desperate. It is difficult to relate to statistics, even when we know they represent precious ones for whom Christ died. But it is not hard to relate to the story of a man such as Kallello Nugusu, who had to sell his two oxen in order to buy food to keep his wife and six children alive when the famine struck Ethiopia. He then had no way to plow his fields and plant his crops, and the food was gone. When asked what he would do, he responded that he didn't know. Then, dropping his head into his hands, he said, "When my children cry because they are hungry, then it is very hard to be a father."'
Though such accounts touch us deeply, we often feel helpless to do anything. How can we respond with any degree of integrity and effectiveness? It is the Discipline of simplicity that gives us the basis for developing a strategy of action that can address this and many other social inequities. Individual, ecclesiastical, and corporate action can spring from the fertile soil of simplicity.
We also struggle with the problem of competing responsibilities that all demand our attention. Like Jack's beanstalk, our obligations seem to grow overnight. We are trapped in arat race, not just of acquiring money, but also of meeting family and business obligations. We pant through an endless series of appointments and duties. This problem is especially acute for those who sincerely want to do what is right. With frantic fidelity we respond to "all calls to service, distressingly unable to distinguish the voice of Christ from that of human manipulators. We feel bowed low with the burden of integrity.
But we do not need to be left frustrated and exhausted from the demands of life. The Christian grace of simplicity can usher us into the Center of unhurried peace and power. Like Thomas Kelly, we can come to know by experience that God "never guides us into an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness." In simplicity, we enter the deep silences of the heart for which we were created. Pope John XXIII declared, "The older I grow the more clearly I perceive the dignity and winning beauty of simplicity in thought, conduct, and speech: a desire to simplify all that is complicated and to treat everything with the greatest naturalness and clarity."
While simplicity provides an answer to the modern dilemma, it does not provide an easy answer. We must never confuse simplicity with simplism. If you came to this book in the hope of finding four easy steps to total
simplicity, you will be sadly disappointed. Simplistic answers, by their very nature, fail to perceive the rich, ordered complexity of life.
Whether we peer into the universe of the telescope or the universe of the microscope, we cannot help being amazed at the varied complexity of the created order. From galaxy to ant to atom we are awed by the intricate mosaic. The apparatusinside our head is literally inconceivable in its complexity, containing perhaps a hundred billion neurons. And beyond that is the mystery of human consciousness, which baffles the imagination. As the Psalmist declared, we are indeed "fearfully and wonderfully made."
Christian simplicity lives in harmony with the ordered complexity of life. It repudiates easy, dogmatic answers to tough, intricate problems. In fact, it is this grace that frees us sufficiently to appreciate and respond to the complex issues of contemporary society. The duplicitous mind, on the other hand, tends to confuse and obscure. While the dogmatic person cannot understand the diversity in simplicity, the double-minded person cannot perceive the unity in complexity.
This brings us to the central paradox of our study: the complexity of simplicity. The fact that a paradox lies at the heart of the Christian teaching on simplicity should not surprise us. The life and teachings of Christ were often couched in paradox: the way to find our life is to lose it (Matt. 10:39); in giving we receive (Luke 6:38); he who is the Prince of Peace brings the sword of division (Matt. 10:34). Those with simplicity of heart understand the Lord, because much of their experience resonates with paradox. It is the arrogant and the obscurant who stumble over such realities.
In this warm and inviting guide to creating a more human style of living, Foster guides readers on the simple path toward finding God by learning to listen, to give, to understand, to show compassion, and to accept what they already have.
Written in the same warm, accessible style as Richard Foster's best-selling Celebration of Discipline, Freedom of Simplicity articulates a creative, more human style of living and points the way for Christians to make their lives "models of simplicity." Foster provides a way to rethink our priorities and to "seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness." He shows us how to live in harmony with the rich complexity of life while stressing the relation of simplicity to prayer, solitude, and all the Christian Disciplines.
About the Author
Richard J. Foster is the author of several bestselling books, including Celebration of Discipline and Streams of Living of Water. He is the founder of Renovaréan infrachurch movement committed to the renewal of the Church in all her multifaceted expressions, and a general editor of the forthcoming RenovaréSpiritual Formation Study Bible.