Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Great Book and a Hero

Another one of the posters I received in the mail this weekend was this one:

I was thrilled to see this "quote" had been made into a poster. It is a quote by one of my long-time heroes, Doris Janzen Longacre.

I think it was round about 1996, the year my first daughter was born, that I came across my beloved book, Living More With Less, at the wonderful restaurant, St. Martin's Table.

Okay - an aside and a plug for SMT. St. Martin's Table is a vegetarian restaurant on the West Bank in Minneapolis. They are a Christian-run restaurant and the wait staff is entirely volunteer. All tips go to a local charity of the month. It's SUCH a cool concept. SMT has incredible food! All of the food is made fresh there every day and they have a wonderful selection of soups too. They have a beautiful bookstore that is connected to the restaurant that is so fun to browse after your meal. The restaurant is a real social hub and they often host community groups, poetry readings, etc. The atmosphere is intimate and warm and while they have many smaller tables, they also have one, large central table for anyone who wishes to sit together: a community table. It's one of my favorite places in the city and I have many fond memories of times spent there.

It was there that I found and purchased Doris Janzen Longacre's two books: The More-With-Less Cookbook and Living More with Less, which I still highly recommend. It is in her book Living More with Less, that she divides the book into the categories of : Do Justice, Learn From the World Community, Nurture People, Cherish the Natural Order, and Nonconform Freely.

The book is broken into two parts. The first part is a collection of eloquent essays Longacre has written around the topics of Do Justice, etc. The second part of the book is, "a glimpse into the experiences of people trying to live by standards of simplicity" in a country of mass-consumption. This book's first copyright is listed as 1980, nearly 30 years ago. Sadly, it's message is as relevant today as it was then, perhaps even moreso. We are now in an age where the climate crisis is staring us boldly in the face and can no longer be denied and in which our government routinely refers to us as "consumers" rather than citizens.

One of the reasons I love this book is that it is a distinctly Christian response to what has, of late, been labeled a more liberal topic. It thrills me to see that while the more publicized Christian responses in the last decade have not seemed to lend themselves to the issues of caring for the planet, living simply, and sharing our resources, more and more Christians are responding to these issues, and indeed to which Longacre's book testifies, have done so for a very long time. It is my hope that we will move into a place where we remain visible and vocal concerning these issues.

In her forward Longacre writes,

"This is a book for people who know something is wrong with the way North Americans live and are ready to talk about change. This is a book about rediscovering what is good and true. This is a book about beauty, healing, and hope, a book about getting more, not less. Volumes can be written on our unbelievable carelessness with God's gifts. We not only neglect the poor, for whom the gospel is to be good news - we exploit them. We nurture purses professions, cars, and houses more than people. We relinquish freedom and personal productivity in favor of dull conformity. We spoil nature, the only home we have. We don't look beyond the predictable, familiar voices for help. We fail to fortify each other in solid communities."

Longacre battled cancer during the writing of this book and passed on to heaven before it was completed. Her husband writes in the introduction, "The fact that others had to bring the book to completion is also symbolic. No one person is a final expert on the subject. We need help from each other. Doris had the primary inspiration and wrote Part One and all but the introductions to the chapters on transportation and church buildings. I finished these using her notes. Many others made this projects a shared effort."

To finish, this is such a beautiful, beautiful book. There are so many fantastic ideas in here: places to start and places to start again. Obviously, I highly recommend it and I read it at least once a year, because it is something that never grows old. I get new ideas from it all the time and since it is broken into tips, it can be read in small bits.

Ronald J. Sider, author of the book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, wrote the introduction to this book, 28 years ago. He wrote,

"If you feel discouraged or alone in your pilgrimage toward simple living, if you have heard enough theory and want practical, concrete suggestions, if you are ready for challenge, read on... Living More with Less is [Doris'] last gift to the church, the poor, and the Lord she served. May its powerful message stir us all to walk further along the path she carefully charted and joyfully trod."
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