Sometimes we can take for granted the life of privilege in which many of us live even as members of the middle class, and even if we do feel grateful for it, is that really enough? As Americans we live in a culture of excess, when many around the world and right at home in our own backyard still have so little. How can we honor God and live faithfully when others around us are in need? Can we really make a difference in their lives? How can we live more simply, when the "simple life" seems anything but?
In More Than Enough, through everyday stories from her own life and family, Pastor Lee Hull Moses seeks to make us aware of issues surrounding privilege and consumerism, while helping us learn to live more intentionally and responsibly, and she does so with a hearty measure of compassion and grace. If you're someone who has become spiritually uncomfortable with your own physical comforts, she helps illustrate ways in which we can live more grateful lives without feeling quite so guilty about that life in the first place.
More Than Enough was recommended by Erin Wathen, the former pastor of the church I attend, when we Skyped with her during our regular book club meeting after reading her new book. As a result More Than Enough was chosen as our latest book club read. I'm not quite sure why I had this impression, but when I picked it up, I thought it was going to be more of a book with tips and suggestions for simpler living. So, if this is an impression that you've gotten, too, know that it isn't that type of book at all. It's more of a compilation of essays on taking a deeper look at how we're living and making intentional choices on ways we could do better. That's not to say that I was disappointed in the book. I wasn't, because the author had a lot of good and thoughtful things to say. So overall, I enjoyed it even if it wasn't quite what I was expecting.
The author explains in her introduction exactly how the book is set up: "For the most part, the odd-numbered chapters are a little more practical. That is they examine hands-on topics like money, possessions, community service, and advocacy work. The even-numbered chapters are more theoretical; they explore ideas and practices that Christians have used for centuries to make sense of their lives and their relationship with God. All the chapters ultimately ask the question: How should we live?" The even-numbered chapters have one-word titles: Enough, Lament, Confession, Sabbath, Hope, Delight. They take a more philosophical approach to examining our lives on a deeper level, while as the author says, the odd-numbered ones are a little more practical. Rev. Moses doesn't necessarily give specifics on how to live, but she does seek to inspire the reader to take more practical steps to live out the concepts found in the other chapters. No matter which it is, I love that all-important question regarding how we should live. Ultimately that's a question that we can only answer individually, which is perhaps why the author didn't give more specifics.
One of the previous books our book club read pointed out just how wasteful America is as a country, and that compliments the discussion in this book of how we do live in a culture of excess that's not merely borne out in wastefulness. The reality is that here in America, we seem to think that bigger is better: bigger portions of food when we go to the restaurant, bigger stores so we have more selection, bigger packages like what we find at warehouse stores like Costco, just everything is bigger. And at the same time, so much of all that stuff is going to waste. I looked up the statistics and found that Americans buy 80 billion new items of clothing each year, and approximately 11 million tons (about the same amount) end up in landfills during that same time frame. Awareness campaigns to keep textiles out of landfills are great, but I've also heard that even thrift stores are becoming overwhelmed with the sheer amount of clothes that are donated. The problem that Rev. Moses presents is that we, as a group of people, generally have the mindset of needing more even when, if we took a closer look at our lives, most of us would find that we already have enough. Perhaps, when we go shopping, we should ask ourselves if we really need that new blouse or another pair of shoes. My favorite quote from the book is at the end of Chapter 2: "More asks: What else can I get? Enough asks: Do I really need more?" I think these are questions that we need to ask ourselves more frequently.
I like how the author takes a look at the concept of simple living and admits that it isn't necessarily so simple. We can look at others who may be growing their own food in a garden or on a farm, raising their own livestock, making their own clothes, etc., but the reality is that those things take a lot of time and effort, and ultimately aren't really simple after all. Rev. Moses leaves a lot of room for grace in this area and admits that she herself if sometimes guilty of not doing the "simpler" thing. In this respect she gives the reader the space to do what they can, while not beating themselves up for their failings, but at the same time, she encourages and perhaps challenges us to try a little harder, such as committing to not driving one day a week or to not purchasing any new items for a month.
Another thing I particularly appreciated was the author taking a look at our charitable giving, and this is something that we discussed in our book club as well. We came to the conclusion that many times, our giving is more to make us feel better than to really help those it's supposed to. While it's great to give money and/or goods to charitable causes, we need to be sure that it's something the person receiving it actually needs. In many third-world countries, some missionary efforts are actually detrimental in more ways than one. I've now heard of a couple of instances of the people receiving things they don't really need and/or it can be damaging in some way to the local economy. So when giving to organizations that help the needy in other countries, we need to be sure it truly is helpful. Also we need to take a closer look at systemic causes of poverty and other social issues and perhaps search for ways to make changes in those areas rather than just throwing money at the problem and hoping it will go away. After all, one of the things the author points out is that we actually have the capability to grow and produce enough food for everyone, yet 50% of children will experience food insecurity at some point in their lives. It's for this and many other reasons that we need to commit ourselves to advocating for deeper, more meaningful changes, or at the very least, making sure we're supporting organizations who do. After all, as the old adage goes, "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime."
Overall, More Than Enough was a good book that is written in an easy-to-read writing style. Rev. Moses uses a lot of stories and anecdotes from her own family and the lives of those around her to illustrate her points. She also interweaves those narratives with Scripture and Bible stories to illustrate how they pertain to our Christian faith. The only reason I knocked off a half star is that there were times as I read it that I felt it wasn't quite cohesive enough, although upon further reflection, it may have just been my perception at the time. But I can't deny that Lee Hull Moses had a lot of interesting and thought-provoking things to say that will inspire me (and hopefully anyone else who reads her book) to take a deeper look at my life and to making changes that will benefit, not only me, but others as well.
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