So maybe I own a lot of stuff. Maybe the guy from the Dirty Jobs TV show goes green in the face and runs for the car after looking down my basement steps. Maybe I think “why would anyone waste a perfectly good two car garage by filling it with cars?” sounds like wisdom of the ages. Maybe I have a walk in closet that has its own zip code. Maybe, when I walk into a mall, credit card companies start drooling so much that the hydroelectric generated would light up three or four Third World countries. Does that mean that I’m a consumer driven and obsessed, Mammon (See Jesus in Matthew 6:24) worshipping, idolatrously materialistic slug who tries to sugar coat this with more denials than a Mafia hit man taking the fifth amendment? Am I doing a head trip on myself? Maybe.
That’s why Jeff Shinabarger wants us to read More Or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity. Granted, once we buy it we will have accumulated more stuff. And if enough books sell, Jeff might become idolatrously rich, sell the rights to TV and hire Tommy Lee Jones to play him in the HBO miniseries. Okay, maybe not. Jeff wants to let us in on a secret. Here it is. You know that peace, joy, and purpose in life… those kinds of things? The things we’re after when we buy stuff, travel, move up to bigger homes we don’t need? We actually achieve all that by losing stuff, not buying it. And we can make a big difference in a lot of needy and suffering situations in the world.
An interesting Scripture describes how God works more by the allure of appetite than by bludgeoning us with our failures and hang ups (We do this to ourselves.) “…for it is God who works within you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) Jeff speaks to those of us who have. And that’s everybody. He opens our eyes to how much because we tend to downplay this and become blind as to how much we have that could help someone else. And Jeff doesn’t live in a box on the street. He moved from an apartment to a house to a bigger house. He loves to eat out and go to ballgames. But he also thinks and lives outside the lines. For example, when he and his wife became engaged a number of couples in their church invited them over for dinner, In each case before they left for the evening, the host would say that if there was anything they could do to help, just let them know. Jeff asked if they had any furniture just sitting around that they didn’t want and that Jeff and his wife would be doing them a favor by removing. They basically filled their first apartment with furniture. This started the ball rolling.
The book really dwells on the issues of what drives us, what do we call success? Jeff really excels on helping us decide on “what is enough?” both in general and quite specifically. He walks us literally through his walk in closet letting us eavesdrop as he lays out criteria in sorting clothes. An inventory list in the back is also helpful but not if we haven’t read up to it. He talks and has thought deeply about time and treasure. He tells other’s stories and draws teaching points. For example, a couple approaching marriage realized they had everything they needed to begin their life together. So when they registered at Target, they made a non-profit helping sexually abused women and girls the recipients. The young women got to come into Target and go around with the guns zapping things for the shelter and for themselves. Then everyone who bought gifts off the registry made a cumulatively huge contribution to an important group otherwise left in much need. And once people get an opening, they find this thing to be contagious. Jeff believes, as with potato chips, once tried we won’t stop with just one.
Jeff is a pool of ideas from other people. The text and footnotes bristle with people and innovative groups dealing with every sort of need and situation. Churches, groups and individuals will find many great starting points. Keep a pad handy as many readers will be flipping back and forth to websites and names of groups described more fully in the footnotes than the text. Someone on staff at his Plywood People broke away from what they saw as a crazy pace of life and on pages 143-145, we can glean some wisdom from what they learned that we can drive on the street today. Jeff also conducts bizarre experiments. He decides that they will try to go for a month without going to the super market eating only the food in their house. His wife insisted on the occasional gallon of milk. More than one reader will think that it’s not easy to be married to someone like this. But they will keep reading to see how things turn out. Jeff is also, at bottom line, a doer. Each chapter has a box with the subtitle “Enough Talk”. Jeff wouldn’t care if we got so enamored with doing the things here that we never took the time to finish his book. Much of Christianity involves doing; merely believing falls short. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves.” (James 1:22)
One of the most serious mutations of spiritual life today involves fantasizing. We read the books, wishfully covet some experience or level of spiritual maturity and then fold our hands. We abound with “wannabes” who never do. We gaze at the heights and merely pout over our own refusal to begin climbing. “More Or Less” not only gives us a place to start, it taps into something in the image of God in every person that longs to breathe. It does it in ways that make us say “I could do that” over things muffled under a blanket of disappointment for years. Only the sin of pride, the debris field of poverty in our past, unwillingness to embrace change or buying into lie that stuff satisfies stand in the way. Jeff Shinabarger does more than throw us a rope; he opens a window to a new place for many of us, but not to God, invites us to take some deep breaths and see if it doesn’t grab us the way it grabbed him.
David Swartz pastors Bethel Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan. He thinks that jazz is sacred music, that books are better company than most people, and that university towns rock. He blogs at geezeronthequad.com.