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want not

Today I was in a fifth-grade classroom and one of the boys in the class had a rip in the seam of his sweatshirt's arm. At the beginning of the day he could put his hand through the hole down by the wrist of the garment, but by pushing his arm through and unpicking stitches with a pencil he pretty much undid the whole arm seam by the end of the day.

I really wanted to tell him to cut it out. I wanted to tell him that he had a perfectly good sweatshirt, and that if he left the hole alone it would be trivial to repair either on a sewing machine or by hand, and that his mother wouldn't want him ruining his clothes. All of which I'm sure are true—but in the case of the last, I don't think his mother will mind enough.

Almanzo Wilder wouldn't have made that hole bigger that's for sure! Part of the reason for that is that his mother would have killed him. Even though the Wilders were fairly well-off (in the story—I make no claims for real history) they were careful not to waste anything, and clothes were a considerable investment of time and effort as well as money. That's not the case now, at least for a fifth-grader in Lexington, so while it might be annoying to his parents to have to replace the sweatshirt—eventually, since I'm sure he has plenty of others—it's not that big of a deal. Some get ripped, some get stained, many get left at school forever to pile up in the lost-and-found. Clothes, like so many other things in our society, are pretty much disposable.

We've talked in church about cultivating a "spirit of abundance," as opposed to a "spirit of scarcity." There's a lot to be said for that way of thinking: it can keep us from hoarding our resources when folks around us are in need, and it can be tremendously liberating in letting us focus on more than just our immediate requirements. But looking at it another way, it's the spirit of abundance that's got us into the mess we're in now, where nationally and globally our resources are being stretched at the same time that we're having to find ways to dispose of ever larger quantities of "waste". When we feel—absolutely correctly, in the short term—that there's always more, there's no reason to be good stewards of what we have.

Me, I hate disposing of things (just ask Leah!). I have a sweatshirt, which is comforting; I want to continue to have it, so as not to have to find another one. Sometimes this way of thinking is too restrictive (and not just because it risks filling the house up with junk!). I collect awesome materials, but then have a hard time using them in projects—that would also be awesome—because I'm afraid I'll think of a better use for them later. That's no good at all: just what the Bible means with that "storing up in barns" verse. But on balance, I think it works out well for me. I don't waste things, and I really don't want very much. I cultivate a spirit of abundance within a spirit of scarcity (which I also have to cultivate: scarcity is hard to do around here these days!). It probably doesn't work for everyone, but it does alright for me.

And Harvey, you better not be making holes in your clothes on purpose!


I like the notion of cultivating a "spirit of abundance within a spirit of scarcity".

We went through the phase (which you bore witness to) where our sense of abundance allowed us to get rid of everything- which was motivated more by the sense that if we planned well and gave things away to people who actually wanted and would use it, nothing would be wasted. And I think that was true to a large extent. But I still miss our stuff, because we're in a different phase now where we want to build things and need the raw materials and tools. I'm not sure if we did the right thing or not, and I could have been a little less self-righteous about it at the time, but hey! Live and learn.

I think the broader point about abundance is important to think about, like you're doing here. While it can be easily co-opted to become wasteful, the notion of abundance for me is all about trying to do the stuff that I think I'm being called to do, even if I'm not sure of how that will go financially. Isn't that exactly what you're doing in choosing teaching?

A little bit, yeah; though I don't really think of it that way. I mean, I don't think of it as any sort of sacrifice: I like doing it, and it pretty much pays the bills. But there was definitely a decision point getting into this lifestyle where it felt a little like we were stepping off a ledge, or giving something up.

By the way, we're selfishly glad you got rid of so much of yourself: I love the big stock pot you gave us!

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