A Good Read: “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess”

Sometimes I wonder why I bother with a blog. Blogs seem narcissistic, you can’t hold them in your hand and smell the pages, and you are never sure who is actually reading what you write. For writers, two of these three things are way out of our comfort zone. But I do it anyway. Every third day I sit down and write something in story form, even if I think I have nothing to say. Lucky you.

But I did find another plus about blogging: if I ever write a book, someone might pick the book up simply because they read my blog (I’m not writing a book, lest you think I have ulterior motives). This is how I was introduced to Jen Hatmaker. Her blog and books have been on my radar screen for the past year, and recently I realized that we share two tribes: we are both graduates of Oklahoma Baptist University and have both adopted internationally, two tightly woven networks. But I was hesitant about reading her new book because I’ve been hearing the drumbeat of rage against Western consumerism and consumption of the earth’s resources for a while. We get quite a few submissions for the magazine about the subject, and I have two college-aged children who are in the midst of bucking the system for what I am now considering very good reason. So I’m coming around to this, but I’m still a horrible slacker when it comes to curbing the excess. I can always use the inspiration and I am drawn to Jen’s honesty, so for those reasons I decided to read the book even though I felt it might be a little redundant.

It wasn’t.

Here’s a trending subject: the sin of excess that runs rampant in our Christianized American culture is being perpetuated by those who of us who claim adherence to Jesus, who never owned anything. You can disagree with the above statement, but it’s hard to argue if you turn your own head to the left and right and take in the mounds of stuff you own. Jen (like you and me) is one of those people, which is why I’m listing her book as a “good read.” Scratch that. It’s a “must-read.” She begins by admitting who she and her husband have been: privileged people (he: evangelical minister, she: Bible study leader) who have spent years “blessing the blessed.” How their overconsumption affected the poor was not on their radar screen. And yes, our overconsumption trickles straight down to affect those who have little. Go ahead and cringe, I’m right with you.

So Jen decided to do a seven-month experiment: Seven months, seven areas, reduced to seven simple choices. It was a project to learn what “less” means in a culture that screams “More!” every second of every day. Her seven areas: Food, Clothes, Possessions, Media, Waste, Spending, Stress. What a surprise – those are my areas! Hey, I’m thinking think they might be yours also. These are seven areas that grip every one of us, and if you’re like me, you long to find ways to crawl out from under their rubble. From the first pages of her book, I recognized myself in Jen: someone who admits the problem of excess in her life, has a desire to do something about it, but has absolutely no idea where to start. So we started together, she and I. And that’s why I love this book. It’s a journey with someone who walks beside her reader instead of standing on a lofty, I-have-arrived-let-me-help-you pillar. She’s like so many of us when it comes to curbing the excess in our lives: closet full of clothes, never gardened, a sloppy recycler, chained to the screens, a full calendar, and a house full of junk purchased on a whim. I read too many blogs and books by people who make me feel defeated before I can even begin to think about starting. Jen’s humble, humorous, and honest writing gave me a starting place. She pulled no punches but was never self-righteous. Her month of wearing seven articles of clothing knocked me to my knees, since this has been an area of weakness for me. If it was the only chapter in the book, it would still be worth the price. But the chapter on media was written for me also, because like the older brother in Napoleon Dynamite, I love technology. Confession: I think I might be addicted. I’m edgy if my fingers aren’t scrolling across a screen or clicking a keyboard, and to my husband’s horror I actually slapped a demure, white Apple sticker in the back window of my brand new Kia. Fortunately, every chapter knocked me to my knees in some way. And it was a good place to be.

But here is the bigger picture of this book…and this issue. It’s not about what we do. It’s about who we are. Unless something changes within us, we’ll eventually replace over and over again all the excesses that we purge. And we’ll listen to the voices that tell us that the small things we do will make no difference in the enormous scheme of things. But there is another voice within us that offers something different. I heard that voice as I read every page of this book. It’s the gentle whisper that tries to get our attention in the midst of our shopping, spending, gorging, wasting, and stressing to offer us something more infinitely beautiful and satisfying. It’s something that those of us who are smack in the middle of the Christian culture truly need. And it’s something I’m determined to find as I continue to peel back the self-serving layers of my life. For me, 7, is a resource on that journey, and it’s one that I want to share. Want a copy? I have an extra, so if you sign up for my blog I’ll randomly choose one of my subscribers to receive a free copy of the book in the next two weeks.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from 7  that I have underlined…twice:

What if we tried together? What if a bunch of Christians wrote a new story, becoming consumers the earth is groaning for? I suspect we’d find that elusive contentment, storing up treasures in heaven like Jesus told us to. I’m betting our stuff would lose its grip and we’d discover riches contained in a simpler life, a communal responsibility. Money is the most frequent theme in Scripture; perhaps the secret to happiness is right under our noses.

4 thoughts on “A Good Read: “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess”

  1. Wonderful! I’m reading it now, in the media chapter. My thoughts so far: food–difficult; clothing–freeing; media–necessary (and I’ve been dragging my heels on this one for more than a year) Can’t wait to finish the book, pass it along to my husband and see where it takes our family!

  2. We’re in the process of purging our house – letting go of possessions that we’ll never miss but that have their grip on us for some reason. Eager to read the book, as I’m sure it will inspire us to keep going.

    1. Thanks Jen! I’m inspired to pass the book along to everyone I know. AND I’m inspired to plant a garden, a thought which makes my hands sweat. Onward!

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