The Simple Life

Sunday Service: The Simple Life

March 12th, 2017 - 10:30 AM                   Rev. Fiona Heath

In my twenties, I lived in an old house with several roommates.
The dog of a roommate chewed my tattered old slippers into pieces.

I looked around for new ones but without success.  At that time, I didn’t have a car, and avoided going to the mall.  Smaller stores close to my house had only ugly and uncomfortable slippers I knew I would never wear.  


I didn’t have a lot of money and slippers seemed too unimportant to spend time and money on, so I relied on my socks.  
My socks got dirty and my feet got cold.  

Finally, almost two years later, my partner bought me a pair of truly good quality slippers for my birthday.  It was not the most romantic present, but it was the perfect gift.

For the first six months every time I stepped into the slippers I thanked him, the slippers and the universe for presenting me with such warm and comfortable footwear.  

If I had gotten new slippers shortly after the demise of my old ones, I would not have thought twice about them.  

It was only because I lived without them for so long that I could feel such gratitude.  

I knew how uncomfortable I was when my feet got cold in the winter.  I knew how good it felt to have warm feet again.

That extreme gratitude has stayed with me.

Even now, many pairs of slippers later, my heart gladdens just a little when I take off my winter boots and slip on the slippers.  

After being so grateful for the slippers, I realized how rarely I feel grateful for all the things I have.  

I seem to accumulate stuff without even trying and I feel more annoyed by the clutter then grateful.  

When we focus on what we don’t have, when we live with a sense of scarcity or needing the next new thing, we can’t appreciate what we already have in our lives.

When we are busy and stressed out, it is very hard to feel gratitude.

How can we be thankful when we are overwhelmed?  How can we appreciate anything when we are in a hurry to move on to the next task?  

Or when we are exhausted and too tired to think clearly?

Janet Luhrs calls simple living "living deliberately... you choose your existence rather than sailing through life on automatic pilot."  

Henry David Thoreau, who we heard about in our story today, went to live at Walden Pond for two years.  He lived in a cabin, and wrote: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I moved to the city of Waterloo to live deliberately.
It had the same effect.

After doing a Master’s in Environmental Studies, I wanted to live an ethical life in connection with the earth.  
I wanted to lighten my ecological footprint.
I saw myself as part of the whole, and took seriously Ghandi’s statement “to live simply so that others may simply live.”

For me, living simply was about the choices I made in how I lived my daily life.

I wanted my personal choices to express my values.
I tried to choose local, to choose green products, to choose second hand as much as I could.  

I spent about 10 years being a simple living advocate.
My column in a local magazine explored living without a car in a car dependent society, being vegetarian in a meat focused culture, and how to conscious choose less in a consumer society.

It was a meaningful way to live, even when it meant bicycling laundry to the local laundromat.

It did also take time.  One of my friends once noted that living simply was actually pretty complicated.

And it’s true.  To think about your purchases, to question their origins, to rely more on yourself and your skills, to build community, all this takes time and energy.

It helps to be young and enthusiastic.
But you don’t have to be.

Simple living – or minimalism as it is currently known -  is about living deliberately, about defining the quality of life outside the parameters of cultural norms of success.

It is a refusal of “he who has the most toys when he dies, wins.”
It’s about personal integrity and taking responsibility for the way you live.

Does your life reflect your goals and values?
What impact do your choices have on you, your family, others and the planet?

Simple living asks each of us to examine our lives and consider the consequences of your choices.

Henry David Thoreau was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Unitarian minister.

In a reading in our grey hymnal, Emerson says:
What are you worshipping?
A person will worship something – have no doubt about that.

We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts –
but it will out.

That which dominates our imagination and our thoughts
will determine our lives, and character.

Therefore, it behooves us to be careful in what we worship,
for what we are worshipping we are becoming.
What we are worshipping we are becoming.

What we worship we are becoming.  

We live in a society that worships many things – some good – such as democracy, equality, and freedom of speech.

But some are destructive.  
If you look at the values of a society revealed by city planning, by the biggest buildings, by where the money goes, you can say with some ease that we worship consumption.  
Even the government refers to us as consumers not citizens.  

We worship production, activity, continual movement.  
We worship technology.  We worship cars.   
We worship stuff.
As individuals we may not want to join in the blind worship of the idols of corporate capitalism and consumption.

I don’t wish to worship the Gods of Coca Cola, Amazon, or the TD Bank.

But I do anyways.  There are no independent bookstores in Brampton.
I like Starbuck chai lattes and popcorn from the Cineplex.
I have to drive a car.

There is no way to be ethically perfect in any society, even here at UCM.
We will always be making compromises.
Values will clash.

I once had two women in a simple living class who had the same reason for making two opposite choices.

One was a single mother with an intensive job.  She hired a weekly cleaner so that she can spend more time with her daughter on following their interests.
Another women chose not to hire a cleaner so that she could clean the house with her daughter, spending time with her and teaching her life skills.

Each woman had considered her options carefully and made the choice that was right for her family and her values.

Each of us has to make the choices that work for our own circumstances and needs.
And we do so in a society that is working against us.
No choice will be perfect and it doesn’t need to be.

Just  taking the time to pause and think about everyday choices is important.

We are pulled in so many directions these days, obligations to family, obligations to work, to church, to our neighbourhoods, to friends, to hobbies, and so on.  

Our lives aren’t centred, geographically or socially.  

Voluntary simplicity helps us regain a sense of ourselves, of our personal power.  It offers an opportunity for hope.

I can’t control so much of what goes on in the world.  

But I can control my participation.  

I can choose where my money goes.
I can choose where my time and energy is focused.

For myself, I try to choose small businesses over chains.
I try to choose organic foods.

As Unitarian Universalists we say that how we live our lives matters more than our belief  systems.  

We have seven principles to guide our choices.
We are grounded in the here and now.

For me this means the ordinary is sacred.
Sacred isn’t beyond us, but here in this moment, and also in the Tim Horton’s drive thru.

That is, if we let it be.  
We have to choose the sacred.
We have to choose to let the everyday count.

 And if we do, if the ordinary is sacred, then we want to make it better.

An equitable, sustainable society takes time.

It is a tremendous challenge to learn how to live co-operatively, inter-dependently, with self-restraint, and with the earth.

People who are living examples of ecological living, living expressions of their principles are needed now.    
And that isn’t always easy.

It means when we choose to use real plates and glasses for our fellowship lunches, we also need to stay behind and wash them.

There is always a catch.

But then you get to talk to other people and build connections.

Religious communities are an ideal support network for members who want to make simple and sustainable living choices.  

Making these changes can be too hard to do alone, we need people to turn to – to inspire and be inspired.  
And we are inspired – just look at all the Toyota Prius’s in the parking lot.
I bought mine just this year.

I’d prefer no car and to just bus everywhere, but that would make my life too difficult to do other things that are important to me.
Lasting, large scale social change requires different transportation systems, different planning priorities, different corporate regulations.
Change needs to happen in laws and social policy.

A single household is too small to affect these changes, cities and corporations are invested in maintaining existing systems.

A religious community is just the right size to advocate for change.
That’s why we have a Social Responsibility Committee.
Why members attend the women’s day march.
Why we wish to act for an equitable, sustainable world.

We can work together to live our principles, to make our daily choices matter, to live with integrity and vision.

We live in a culture that teaches us to be competitive, independent, selfish, and greedy.  
We are taught that wealth matters more than anything else.   We are told appearance matters more than character.  We are told new is always better, and more is better than less.

Simple living – or minimalism - expresses a different understanding of what is important.
Living simply is about living authentically, nurturing community, finding your passion and expressing your spirituality (Cecile Andrews).

It weaves well with our Unitarian Universalist framework.

To live authentically is to have the opportunity to be ourselves, without worry about image or status or loss of security.
To live authentically is to know who you are, and what you value.

As UUs, our fourth principle calls each of us to seek our own truth and meaning.  We must own who we are, and live honestly.

As people of the chalice we know that people are social creatures, we need one another to live well.  Community helps us be caring and compassionate.

As we follow our own truths, we know meaning also lies in being together and working together.

We all need a passion, something that makes us feel alive, that we can focus our attention on and get lost in.  Something that gives our lives purpose.

When I gave a simple living lecture at a public library and talked about having a passion, a young man raised his hand and said he had trouble defining his interests.

He went to work, came home, ate and watched tv.  He truly didn’t know what else he might be doing.

Then an older woman put her hand.  She said she felt the same way. She didn’t have any passionate interests.

People began nodding.  About a third of the audience didn’t feel strongly about anything.

I was caught off guard.  So surprised  and sad that so many people can reach adulthood and not know what brings them alive.

I told the audience to pay attention as they went about their day.  What caught their interest? What did they enjoy doing the most?  Where was their curiousity?   To pay attention to their inner voice.

Finally, simple living includes developing your spiritual life.  People need rituals and celebrations that create a sense of belonging to the larger whole.

We need a sense of joy and awe and connection to replenish our spirits.
It is why we come together each week.

To live as though the ordinary is sacred, to live in ways that feeds our spirit, challenges us to live with integrity.
As far as we know, we only get one life, and the choices we make every day shapes who we are.

To live spiritually asks us to live mindfully.  To live deliberately.
To live with intention.

 Authenticity, community, passion and spirituality.

Seeking to live with authenticity, being part of a community, following our passions, and developing our spirituality help us to live simply.

And in doing so, we will find ourselves living with more meaning and fulfilment.

I don’t live as simply as I used to.  But I became a UU because it’s a way for me to live with meaning and fulfilment.

I’m grateful that I made this choice.  
I’m grateful for a religious tradition that encourages ethical living.

Our way of being in the world is worthy of our time and energy.
How we live our lives matters.

So Say We All!


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