Living the simple life?

By Ben Bear

Ben Bear with pumpkin

BVS volunteer Ben Bear decapitates an innocent pumpkin. Photo by Laura Whitman.


Being a volunteer through BVS can be a radically different experience from person to person. Some of us live in single apartments, plopped down in a city or town hundreds or thousands of miles from “home” and hit the ground running with their project. Others end up living in intentional communities where they are immediately connected to other volunteers and a hosting congregation with a well-established role for them.

In the weeks since I arrived in Elgin, I have struggled some with the concept of living a simple life. As volunteers, we have agreed to live simply, within our means, and without (too much) excess. Having heard stories from other volunteers and seen some of their sites, some of them take this challenge quite seriously. For example, the New Community Project in Harrisonburg, VA has a homemade table at which they eat their communal, second-hand gathered meals. The kicker: the table is made of warehouse pallets. The table’s creator ballparked the cost of the entire process of making the table at around $20. Check it out:

New Community Project table made of warehouse pallets

New Community Project table made of warehouse pallets

On the flip side, my new role as the BVS assistant recruiter has me traveling all over the country in the coming year. Recently I was in the great commonwealth of Virginia, mostly hanging out down in the Shenandoah Valley. Fast forward seven days after returning and I was already back on the road, this time in Pennsylvania. I’ll be pretty impressed if I manage to put together an entire month back at Elgin between trips the rest of my time here. Granted, I knew this would likely be the case when I agreed to come back into BVS. Still, I sometimes struggle with how simply I’m actually living when I jet-set around the country so much and end up with rental cars that look like this:

Red rental car

Shiny!

And this:

White rental car

Also shiny!

Driving around in these well-maintained, relatively new, kinda sporty-looking vehicles is, admittedly, a bit fun. It’s nice to not feel constantly concerned that the [random car part] might break. They do get pretty decent gas mileage, too. Still, there remains an internal struggle of what it really looks like to live simply and to what degree I’m being successful in that endeavor.

In the end, I don’t have an answer to the justification for the life I lead here or how to alter it for the better. For a guy who really likes having answers, this might be one that is left for pondering. To that end, here are a few quotes that seem to grasp at the concept of a simple existence:

“Live simply, so that others may simply live.” ~ St. Elizabeth Seton

“It is impossible to detach from the love of material things unless it is replaced by love for things unseen.” ~ St. Teresa of Avila

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” ~ Confucius

May the road rise with you…

Ben

Top Brethren things to do on a snow day

snowy day from a window6. Watch a video recording of a webinar or event you missed. It’s free! What could be more Brethren than that?

5. Sew on buttons. Sure, your winter coat still works with one button and a belt (speaking from personal experience), but maybe you will be warmer being able to close all those holes.

4. Plan your garden. Order seeds or plants after you make a few decisions. Will you clear a new spot? Rotate what grows where? Create raised beds? Put in a rain barrel or drip hose? (How did simple living get so complicated?!)

3. Lay out a small four square court with masking tape on a countertop. If you can’t find a little rubber bouncy ball, try making a ball. You had to be saving those rubber bands from the newspaper—and the broccoli—for something!

2. Make snow ice cream:  canned milk, vanilla and sugar mixed with a bowl of the cleanest snow you can find. Yes, we Brethren believe in a land flowing with milk and honey… it’s just that the milk and honey have to be below the freezing point.

1. Shovel for a neighbor… or a stranger… or even your dog. You know, whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Jesus!

What would you add to this list?

–Jan Fischer Bachman