We are all aspiring to love our neighbours, but are we inclined to agree with them, or even expect our neighbours to understand us? A simple life can be admired, envied, ridiculed, misunderstood or even mistrusted by others in the community in which we find ourselves and while hoping to love all our neighbours we often find ourselves liking some more than others and finding a few very difficult indeed! Simple harmony demands of us that we try our hardest to get on with those we come into contact with and, despite our differences, develop mutual understanding.
It is, of course, possible to live a simple life alone; many have succeeded. Some have chosen to live alone and others have had it thrust upon them by circumstances which were not of their choosing; either way you can make yourself a rich and a simple life. However, the danger is of real isolation and this will work against the simple and peaceful existence that you crave. Remember that simplicity on its own may just be minimalism. That’s fine if that is what you want, but the thrust of this book is to suggest that moving to greater simplicity involves moving to a greater awareness of the spiritual dimension of life and in turn, that cannot leave you in a state of poor communication with others.
Throughout this book we will look at the Amish as an example of a community living in a state of simplicity. To the Amish themselves, simplicity is only part of a tapestry of life that includes God, the Bible, family, and community; we cannot pick out strands of this tapestry without destroying the overall picture. All things are connected and one strand is so interwoven with the others that, even to an outsider, the concept of being Amish looks like completeness.
Unless you come from an Amish or conservative Mennonite (see below) family your chances of joining an Amish group are very slim indeed. The Amish are part of the Anabaptist tradition and, (like many Anabaptists) moved from Europe to America (initially by invitation of the Quaker William Penn) to set up home in Pennsylvania, a place of safety away from the persecution that was a familiar part of life in Europe. If it’s simplicity you want then the Amish must be an important inspiration. Their rejection of much modern technology is not because of its modernity per se, rather than because it is not needed. Technological advances are deemed to be acceptable or not according to a judgment on how much impact they will have on normal Amish life.
“Finally, be friendly to all and a burden to no one. Live holy before God; before yourself, moderately; before your neighbors, honestly. Let your life be modest and reserved, your manner courteous, your admonitions friendly, your forgiveness willing, your promises true, your speech wise, and share gladly the bounties you receive.”
The Amish Rules of a Godly Life
Religious worship generally takes place in Amish homes and so accordingly, congregations must remain small. Contrary to popular belief, the Amish are not isolationists and do mix with other in the locality; in Eastern Pennsylvania and Western Ohio they work, farm and live alongside Mennonite and Quaker communities, interactions being everyday necessary occurrences.
I have met many people who admire the Amish, and the number of books about them (including those novels known as ‘bonnet rippers’) is testimony to the appeal of their lives. However, to live like the Amish, but not be part of a supportive and loving community, is a difficult if not impossible task. The thrust of this chapter is to encourage you to find a community that you can consider yourself a part of; for some this is an easy prospect, while for others it may be one of the more difficult aspects of developing a simple life.
Being Part of a Community
We all are part of several communities; these range from our families, our locality and our workplace to any groups we belong to. Getting on with these communities is an important part of the simple life. Families are considered fully in Chapter 11 so we will not look at them now. This chapter will focus on looking for ways of fitting into your local community. You may already be a keen and active member of your local community or you may feel very isolated, even ostracized by those who live close to you; either way the ground rules are the same.
Always be polite, always greet people you pass on the street (unless you live in a large town or city where this would quickly wear you out) and say ‘good morning’ with a smile. Even if they don’t answer you still say ‘good morning’ with a smile for a few times until you are convinced that they really don’t want to be greeted when they see you; change the greeting then to a silent smile. If people want to talk with you, be cheerful, but don’t be drawn into long conversations if you don’t wish it, or if you have much work to do. It is quite possible to have a light-hearted chat with an individual every day for some years without it ever going any further. No problem with that ~ being friendly does not always develop into friendship, and ‘getting on’ with people does not have to involve social intimacy.
Above all other things, at whatever level you deal with people, treat them equally. Don’t consider yourself better than anyone, nor anyone better than you. Greet the homeless man in the same way that you would greet the rich woman, disregard sex, race, gender, sexual orientation, clothing, status and title. It is not for you to judge them, nor allow personal prejudice to affect your responses to others.
Many people like to get involved with local community organizations and so may you, but consider these points carefully. Firstly; community involvement can take a great deal of time. Unless you can commit that time over a sustained period, then you should not volunteer; you can be supportive, but not get actively involved yourself. Secondly, you may well need to have an aptitude or even some sort of vocation for community work; if you lack either of these you may be letting your community down by getting involved with something for which you don’t necessarily have the skills. Is someone else better qualified than you take part or even lead community action? Thirdly, never compromise your basic beliefs to fit in with community action; if you don’t agree with gambling, don’t run a raffle; if you are a vegetarian, don’t organize a hog roast, and if you agree with ideas of sexual equality, then think twice before joining groups to which only men or women are invited. It goes without saying that you should not get involved in anything that borders on racism, homophobia, the mistreatment of animals or illegality.
Those things taken into account, if you feel that community action is the thing for you then what are you waiting for? However, should you decide that it does not fit in with what you want, then don’t get involved, even if low-level bullying tactics are involved. Be honest and simply say that you choose not to. You can give support to community action in many ways that do not involve you in direct organizational activities; seek out these ways and do what you can. Charity is the finest of things, but do not get involved in things that you are not entirely happy with under the simple pretext that ‘it’s for charity’; support those charities you believe in in ways that you find acceptable.
Some people are shy or natural introverts while others are gregarious extroverts; know yourself and decide for yourself your level of community involvement.
You may want to join groups that share some of your values; we will look at spiritual groups later, but to start with, let’s consider politics. You can get involved with politics in two ways; you can join a ‘single issue’ group ~ maybe against hunting, changing the law on a particular issue, protesting against a hospital closure, planning etc. as long as you agree fully with the aims of the group. If you have the time, it seems to present few problems. You can also get involved with politics by joining a political party. This does raise some issues because if you don’t agree with all the policies of that party, you are still, in effect, campaigning for those same policies. You may of course still choose to support that party at election time on the grounds that they come at least some way in matching your ideals. As a Quaker and a pacifist, I find that I cannot join any political party that supports war or the acquisition and maintenance of nuclear weapons; this does not stop me voting at every possible election ~ usually in an attempt to keep someone out of office who does support war and nuclear weapons!
You can join any number of other non-political groups if you want, but take care that your simple lifestyle is not being compromised. Join only what you can afford, consider the time it will absorb, and thus take you away from other things; ask carefully of yourself whether you are compromising your core beliefs in any way at all.
"Too many of us have too many irons in the fire.... Quaker simplicity needs to be expressed...in the structure of a relatively simplified and coordinated life-program of social responsibilities."
~ Thomas R. Kelly
~ Thomas R. Kelly
Social Media and Simplicity
|(C) Whatever organization these little pictures represent.|
Many will recoil in horror at me suggesting that social media has any relevance to living simply. I disagree because I am working on the premise that to follow a simple lifestyle does not require the rejection of technology, rather the use of technological tools to help achieve simplicity. Before we look at how to use social media it needs to be stated that this feature of modern life is very addictive and, unless you set yourself strict rules, it will use up too much of your time and too much of your energy, thus preventing or at least delaying you from achieving your goals. Decide how much time a day you want to devote to social media ~ or in fact the internet ~ all together and stick to it. (I suggest that this should be no more than forty minutes a day.) Furthermore, ensure that you have at least one fixed and random internet free day each week. The fixed day should be when the family is all at home together and the random day could be any day that finds you particularly busy. Be strict with yourself on this and use time limiting ‘apps’ to help you, should you lack the necessary self-control. Social media networks are free of charge to use, so as long as this remains true, why not use them? Our grandparents had no internet, but they did spend some time each week in the forgotten art of writing letters ~ you may regard social media as an extension of this idea or some of you may even prefer to go back to the old style of paper and envelope instead!
Social media can do several things to help you in your simplicity, firstly it can help you overcome feelings of isolation in your simple life, secondly it can help you meet others involved in similar activities elsewhere in the world, and thirdly it can be an important source of information. Facebook™ for instance, has several ‘pages’ devoted to simple living, self-sufficiency, various faith-based and other ‘not-for-profit’ organizations; it also has ‘groups’ devoted to the same areas. Don’t go wild, but find a handful of pages and groups and join them, make comments on the posts of others as you see fit and others will find you. Don’t ‘like’ commercial products or services on social media as they will only use this as a way of advertising to your friends.
If you find yourself already on social media networks with friends and relatives that you no longer wish to associate with, you can start a new account with a new name. You can send messages to those friends with whom you would like to keep in contact by directing them to the ‘new you’, give it two or three weeks and then close your old account ~ easy! As in real life, don’t feel beholden to those who you meet on the internet; if they post things that you find offensive or repeatedly pointless, then unfriend them at once. Don’t get involved in arguments on the internet, especially with strangers; no greater waste of human time has ever been found. Be honest and sincere with those you meet, even if you never expect to meet them in the flesh. In this way you will make some very good friends. The great joy of these things is that if you are not in the mood for company, or simply too busy, then don’t switch on your computer. If you post on the internet, do it before switching off for the day; that way you won’t be tempted to keep returning to see who has responded. Live messaging is best used only with those you know well and want to chat with; don’t leave yourself open to chatting with those who have more time on their hands than you do (of which there are many).
If all this sounds a little harsh, please remember that a simple life is not one that provides you with endless amounts of leisure time, in fact the more simple my life has become over the years, the less free time I have. Time is precious ~ don’t waste it and, more importantly, don’t let others waste it for you!
In the past many people kept journals, either as a diary or as some kind of written scrapbook of small items. You may decide that this is still a worthwhile idea, or you may decide that you can incorporate this into your simple lifestyle. I can testify that reading the blogs of others who try to live with simplicity has been an enormous source of encouragement and delight. You should limit blog reading to just those few that you really relate to, and you will find that responding to points in a helpful and cautious way will make you friends. I can see no point in responding to points made on blogs that you disagree with, or entering into arguments with those whose view of life differs greatly from your own; why spend your valuable time on things and views that you don’t care about?
If you start your own blog, do it for free on one of the platforms that allow you not to use advertising or to choose your own products (you don’t want to see advertisements on your blog for products that you find unacceptable or even unethical). You may choose to blog anonymously to avoid intrusion into your private life or you can chose to have an ‘invitation only’ blog that you can share with friends and family, but not the great ‘googling’ public. Use your blog to illustrate and explain your lifestyle to others, be open and honest, but don’t use the space for confessions or attacking others ~ what would be the point of that? Write your blog when you have something to say and don’t fall into the trap of the weekly update, which will soon become a chore and a bit of an ‘albatross’ around your neck. Don’t measure your success in terms of comments and ‘likes’; many will read what you have to say without leaving a trace of their visit.
Becoming part of a Religious Group
Religious and spiritual groups may offer you a real chance to feel part of a community with others of similar views to yourself, and eventually allow you to make some good friends. If you already consider yourself to have found your spiritual home in your own branch of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Paganism or whatever, then you will want to fit your simple lifestyle into the tradition of that religion. None of these religions is without a long tradition of simplicity and your life will be made richer by exploring, alone or with others, the roots and practice within your faith. Others among you will be ‘seekers’; you may feel that you have a spiritual home somewhere, but you might not know where to start looking. If this is the case, a search for some kind of religious ‘home’ may be worthwhile. Don’t assume, however, that this is necessarily as easy as it sounds; as with finding a partner, you should know when you have made the right choice!
Wherever and whatever you seek, do not accept compromise; go to a spiritual home where your your own personal beliefs fit comfortably and choose a group to join only if it is made up of individuals with whom you feel at ease, and with whom you are happy making a spiritual journey. Below I will highlight some religious groupings that you may not be too familiar with, but all of which have some special relevance to simplicity. I have avoided discussion of ‘mainstream’ churches only because they are very well known and easy to find out about; this does not mean that they might not be perfect for you! I will not be discussing any group that charges a fee for you to join or attend meetings; if you find yourself being asked for contributions other that the customary voluntary ‘collection’, think very carefully about whether you are becoming part of a spiritual group, or just buying another product. Most groups should allow you time to ‘taste’ what's on offer before you decide to become a full member, so don’t hesitate to decline membership if you feel that you really don’t fit in or simply say that you are not ready yet and wish to give it longer before you make up your mind.
The Mennonites come from the same theological roots as the Amish, namely Anabaptism; they too found a home in Pennsylvania at the invitation of the Quakers, following persecution in Europe. While it may be hard for the outsider to see the difference between an Amish community and an Old Order Mennonite community, differences do exist. Most Mennonites today do not wear Plain clothing (see chapter 6) and seem thoroughly ‘modern’, but they do have very strong beliefs, including a rigorous commitment to simplicity and pacifism. Mennonite groups exist widely in the USA, Eastern Europe, Russia and many African countries; in the UK they are thin on the ground, but groups do exist and a national umbrella organization helps groups and individuals to make contact (see link at the end of the Chapter).
If you want to combine your simple lifestyle with conventional Biblical Christian beliefs, then it is well worth exploring the Mennonites in more detail.
“Preoccupation with money and possessions, self-indulgent living and eagerness to accumulate wealth for personal advantage are not in keeping with the teaching of Scripture.”
US Mennonite Brethren Confessions of Faith
Simplicity is an important concept to Quakers, both as individuals and as a group. Practitioners of simplicity at any level will find like-minded people at their local meeting. Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends) have their roots in the religious and political turmoil of the seventeenth century. Quakers do not have churches, but meet together, usually once or twice a week, in a Meeting House for what is not called a service, but a Meeting for Worship.
Today Quakers offer a spiritual home for many, including those from a very wide range of religious beliefs. Worldwide Quakers are predominantly Christian, but Universalist, Buddhist, Pagan and even Nontheistic Quakers are not uncommon, especially in Britain. In the UK the vast majority of Quakers are part of one umbrella group, the Britain Yearly Meeting, but in North America, where the numbers of Quakers are much larger, several groupings are present that represent differing traditions. The most common form of Quaker worship (and as far as I know the only form in the UK) is unstructured worship where Quakers (called Friends by each other) gather in a Meeting and wait in silence until one of them is moved to speak. This speech emanating from the silent Meeting is called Ministry and represents the only spoken part of the meeting, until the announcements at the end. Going to the meeting makes you an ‘attender’ but, given time you may apply to become a full member.
Quakers are very tolerant of differences among individuals and you will find yourself able to participate fully without having your individual beliefs challenged. While Quakers have no creed or dogma you are expected to be in broad agreement with a series of statements called Testimonies which are associated with peace, justice, truth, environment, equality and of course simplicity. Many Quakers, particularly those associated with Ohio Yearly Meeting, do dress Plain (see chapter 6) and a growing number of Quakers from other yearly meetings are adopting this form of simplicity, even a few in Britain.
If you hold strong to the Christian heritage of Quakerism, you may find it difficult in the UK to find a meeting in your locality at which you feel you fit in. In this case you may, instead of seeking membership, consider yourself one of the growing numbers of unaffiliated Quakers who, while fully feeling part of the world Quaker movement, are unhappy with the direction that many British Quaker Meetings seem to be taking. In North America, with several strands of the Quaker tradition very active, you should find it much easier to find a Meeting which you feel at home with.
"Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of great strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effect your style of living is having on the global economy and environment?"
~Advices and Queries; Britain Yearly Meeting
“Our principal objective is not to make new members, but to build true relationships with other people and groups, to listen to the heartbeat of our times and bear witness to the possibility of living in unity without distinction of color and culture: we do not feel separated, but part of the larger, vaster community.”
Eberhard Arnold (Bruderhof)
Unitarians (called Unitarian Universalists in most countries) developed from a number of free churches and Eastern European movements in the sixteenth century. Today Unitarians are noted for their lack of creed and dogma, and their accommodating attitude. Christians (of the non-Trinitarian kind), Pagans, Buddhists and others can all make a home within a Unitarian group. While not having a specific statement on simplicity, Unitarians would be very open to those following a simple living lifestyle.
Over a century ago many Unitarians, who were members of the transcendental movement, mainly American, experimented with simple living; among them were Henry David Thoreau and Amos Bronson Alcott (father of Louis M. Alcott of Little Women fame). They met with mixed success, but great literary influence. It is impossible to look at any kind of experimental way of living in the Eastern USA at the end of the nineteenth century without constantly hitting upon Unitarian ideas.
If your religious views are difficult to match up with congregations you have tried, and geographically you have Unitarians near you, then this could be the answer. With some lack of understanding as to what both groups encompass, Unitarians are sometimes described as ‘Quakers who sing Hymns’; this ignores the independent development of traditions in both of these strands of liberal religion, but from abolition of slavery to women’s rights and same sex marriage, Quakers and Unitarians have stood shoulder to shoulder.
“We need to praise simplicity in religion and simplicity in our life style, to make of simplicity, sparing and stewardship an integrated way of being.”
~ John Toye, Economist and Unitarian
|© Saint Meinrad Archabbey|
Oblates are generally part of the Catholic, Orthodox or sometimes Anglican Christian tradition, but many people from other Christian denominations are able to take part, as long as they have a belief in the Trinity. Being an Oblate associates you with a monastery, and although you are not formally a monk or a nun you may take part in the life of the monastery either regularly, if geography allows, or through visits. Oblates can be individuals, families or even small groups. Perhaps the most well-known are the Oblates of St Benedict which ranks simplicity high among their aims. Becoming an Oblate is considered a vocation and does involve the taking of vows, so make sure that you are happy with this from the onset.
|© Plain Catholics|
Another very different grouping of Catholics devoted to simplicity are the Plain Catholics. Full individual members of the Catholic Church, Plain Catholics have adopted many of the lifestyle choices more often associated with the Amish, Plain Quakers or Old Order Mennonites. The grouping has no geographical base, but has members in congregations around the world. Catholics devoted to self-sufficient living might also want to investigate the Catholic Land Movement, which again has worldwide membership. (Links at the bottom of this page.)
Celtic Christian Communities
Celtic Christianity is a term applied, fairly loosely, to the form of Christianity that grew up before the christian areas of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and parts of England were under the direct control of the Roman Catholic Church. Definitions are vague, but this was the Dark Ages, and while historians may disagree, the writings of early Celtic Christians are quite wonderful in their attempts to marry together Christianity with a more ‘pagan’ view of the world. The early Celtic Christians were convinced that simplicity drew them closer to God and allowed them to live close to the natural cycles of the Earth. Simplicity was at the heart of the Celtic monastic tradition and, at times, this developed into a very austere way of life.
In all honesty, the Celtic Church no longer exists, but strands of it survive in modern Anglicanism, Methodism and Catholicism whilst similarities in theology and practice show comparisons with Orthodox Christianity. Several communities have grown up which draw from all denominations and which try to keep those ideals of Celtic Christianity alive. The Northumbrian and Ionian Communities have well supported groups on the web and help to organize pilgrimages and retreats. True, many experience these groups only via the internet, but their activities are helpful and worth investigating if you find yourself in sympathy with Celtic Christian ideals.
|© Mike McClenahan: Northumbria Community|
Sexual Orientation and Religious Groups
If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or any kind of gender nonconformist, then you may want to check the attitudes of any group you plan to join. Quakers, Unitarians and Reform Jews are very openly against discrimination on sexual orientation grounds, but you may need to approach other groups on a local level. Above all, do not be intimidated into thinking that you need to change basic parts of your own sexual makeup just to be part of a religious group ~ you don’t! Modern attitudes to sexual orientation are in no way compromised by simple living, and by accepting your own sexuality and that of others you are embracing the simple notion that all of us are different and yet all of us are equal!
“One should no more deplore homosexuality than left-handedness.”
~Towards a Quaker View of Sex 1963
Doing your own Thing
Geography is much more important than it used to be in finding a group that you feel you want to be part of. At one time a whole range of alternative religious groups might have been available for your use within easy reach, but in many European and North American communities, decreasing attendance and a more dispersed population means less choice. One solution is to start your own group consisting of family, friends and neighbours. The Amish meet fortnightly in each others’ homes and, when a worship group gets too large for the accommodation, a new group is formed. You could run your group along the lines of the unstructured meetings of the Quakers, the more directed worship of the Mennonites, or any other alternative you chose. You may wish your group to be self-contained or seek to affiliate it to a larger organization. If it all ends up with just your family taking some time together in silent worship once a week then what’s wrong with that?
You may find that you don’t fit into any of the groups above and that your religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs, would be compromised by joining any group. In that case the internet should provide you with a wealth of non-religious, or alternative religious groups to join. It may be difficult to gain local connections, but you could be pivotal in starting a group of your own.
Many, throughout history have found themselves literally on their own and this too may have rich rewards.
Guide to how to use these 'green boxes'.
Guide to how to use these 'green boxes'.
· Decide what level of involvement you want to have in your local community; think about what you are able to sustain and don’t be sidelined from your decision.
· Consider restricting your daily time spent on social media and introduce computer-free days each week.
· Draw up a list of your ‘core beliefs’ and try to place them in rank order.
· If you belong to a church or religious group, compare your personal beliefs with those stated by the group.
· Consider whether ‘organized religion ‘is for you or whether you prefer to be outside any religious grouping.
· Compare your beliefs with your partner, and the rest of your family. Are you able to and happy about sharing a spiritual journey?
· If you are not part of a religious or spiritual grouping, consider exploring some of those mentioned in the body of this chapter.
· If you find that you are no longer in harmony with your current religious or spiritual grouping, consider making a change.
· Learn the skill of listening to others; you don’t have to come back at them or to compare their views with yours ~ you can just listen. When they have finished, ask them questions; do not be tempted to give them advice or tell them your own experience unless they invite you to.
· Answer to what others ask of you with honesty and kindness.
· Become a part of a spiritual or religious group.
· Examine your life fully and work for common aims together with other members of your group.
· Consider starting up a small worship group in your home.
· Seek to integrate fully in your group and become more active locally, nationally or even internationally.
If you are interested in any of the groups mentioned in this chapter, then a visit to the respective website should give you access to update information about the groups and any local activity.
The Mennonite Trust (UK) http://menno.org.uk/
Mennonite Church (USA) http://www.mennoniteusa.org/about-us/who-are-the-mennonites/
Unitarians (UK) http://www.unitarian.org.uk/index.shtml
Unitarians (USA) http://www.uua.org/
Quakers in Britain http://www.quaker.org.uk/
Quaker Finder (North America) http://www.fgcquaker.org/connect/quaker-finder
Conservative Quakers (USA) http://www.quaker.us/welcome.html
Bruderhof Communities http://www.bruderhof.com/en-gb
Plain Catholics http://plaincatholic.webs.com/
The Catholic Land Movement http://www.thecatholiclandmovement.org/
The Northumbrian Community (Celtic Christian) http://www.northumbriacommunity.org/
The Iona Community (Celtic Christian) http://iona.org.uk/
Benedictine Oblates (UK) http://www.benedictine-oblates.net/
The North American Association of Benedictine Oblate Directors http://www.naabod.org/
QuakerQuaker (worldwide community) http://www.quakerquaker.org/
The Pagan Federation (UK) http://www.paganfed.org/cms/
National Secular Society (UK) http://www.secularism.org.uk/
Wikipedia page on LGBT affirming Christian Denominations
The following ‘pages’ on Facebook will be of interest to those following a simple lifestyle.
A Plain and Simple Place Linked to this site.
(C) Ray Lovegrove aka 'Hay Quaker' 2014