An upside to downsizing
Curbing spiritual plaque and ethical dissonanceby Chuck Hosking
When I’m being honest, I have to admit that minimalism is an acquired taste. But in a sluggish economy and with mounting awareness of climate chaos, I’m finding more folks receptive to the cleansing effects of downward mobility.
In fact, someone just built a microhouse (120 square feet) in my back yard and will be living in it when he returns from a scientific expedition in Antarctica. He stayed with me in the main house as he was building his and remarked several times about the therapeutic effects of my house conventions:
(1) nothing costing over $20 allowed in the house (except the refrigerator),
(2) all doors and windows unlocked at all times and
(3) minimal utility use (e.g. I only kick on a space heater for indoor temps below 40 degrees F, and water used inside the house is harvested for heat—in winter—and then carried outside in pails for a second use to water the garden).
The God I revere values all humans and invites us all to pursue global equity—no one needs to be destitute if no one takes more than a fair share of resources (whether natural or financial) from the global commons. And a lean approach can help us feel better about ourselves as well. I view God as a Great Spirit of goodness and love, an infinite font available to all who choose to avail themselves of it. God’s goodness and love can flow through us as human pipes, conduits to a world with massive spiritual needs.
God is the source; we are mere conduits. But we can only be efficient conduits of God’s goodness and love if our arteries are clear of spiritual plaque. Encumbrances to our partnership with God include resource use beyond our fair share (financially about $1,500 per person per year). Such excessive living is unhealthy for our souls and over time builds up as spiritual plaque in our arteries, impeding the flow of God’s goodness and love to a needy planet. Robbed of a right relationship with God, our spiritual health falters, and we become disappointed with ourselves. A minimalist approach can thus be seen as an antidote to this spiritual malady.
When we affirm and profess one way of living but find ourselves actually acting differently in our daily lives, ethical dissonance occurs. The longer we diverge from the path of spiritual health that we profess and know in our innermost being to be best both for ourselves and the world at large, the more persistent is the ethical dissonance. As with spiritual plaque, ethical dissonance erodes our right relationship with God and weighs heavily on our souls, decimating respect for the person we’re fated to spend our entire lives with—ourselves.
We Mennonites have an organization that exists precisely to unburden us of encumbrances to a right relationship with God: Mennonite Central Committee. This lean Mennonite program links those of us who find ourselves in possession of more than our fair share of resources with those living far below that $1,500 global median in a win-win partnership for global equity.
We in the overdeveloped world plagued by illnesses of surfeit can clear out our arteries of spiritual plaque and reduce our ethical dissonance by lessening the resource destitution of folks in Asia, Africa and Latin America. MCC acts as a lean conduit free of spiritual plaque, and through its partnerships with low-income grassroots organizations allows those of us who contribute to partner with God to redeem a globally inequitable world.
Last fall, thousands of mostly young folks persistently protested corporate greed and Wall Street white-collar gambling. They reminded us that 1 percent of U.S. citizens enrich themselves at the expense of the other 99 percent. Most of this publication’s readers are part of the 99 percent and likely oppose corporate greed. But viewed through a global lens, we readers find ourselves on the other side of the income divide.
Anyone making $50,000 per year is part of the elite global 1 percent; anyone making $25,000 per year is part of the elite global 10 percent. And this income flows to us in part due to neoliberal globalization trade rules rigged to benefit those in the overdeveloped nations who crafted them.
Since all wealth ultimately emanates from the natural resources of God’s creation, and since the healthy genes, keen intellect, caring parents, country of opportunity and drive to excel that many of us were born with were all God-given gifts, it’s a myth to say we “earn” our wealth.
Now our unearned, elite status could make us feel guilty that we’re unfairly wealthy by global standards. But our guilt benefits no one. It makes us feel bad about ourselves, and those of our global siblings with dire needs are no better off for our guilt. The choice is ours. We can wallow in ethical dissonance and allow spiritual plaque to block our arteries to the free flow of God’s goodness and love or by affirming a healthy dose of lean minimalism we can move up to downsizing and shed our surplus baggage to MCC to be used to forge partnerships with the global underclass.
By hitching our wagons to MCC, we help build a more equitable world and redeem ourselves from global elitism. Through solidarity with our global siblings, we find meaning in life and augment our self-respect. Welcome to membership in the global majority. At long last, we’re finally home.
Chuck Hosking attends Albuquerque (N.M.) Mennonite Church. See a news story about Hosking and simple living internship he was involved with in Albuquerque.
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