I met my friend Giles when I was training for ordination ~ as a Methodist minister but on an Anglican ordination course ~ back in the early 1990s. We became fast friends; we’ve lost touch now, but there’s still a bed made and a candle in the window in one chamber of my heart that is his own.
Giles has much about him intelligent, interesting and good, but what’s in my mind today is a word he brought to the fore in my life that I’d never much used before: ‘appropriate’.
I used to think of things as good or bad, nice or nasty, interesting or boring, desirable or a bad idea. But Giles recalibrated my thinking to the concept of something being appropriate ~ or not. So, of many choices or behaviours, one might ask not ‘is this a good thing?’ or ‘is this a bad thing?’ but ‘is this appropriate’. Time, place and people make a difference to the answer. What’s a good plan in 1977 might be a bad idea in 1992, even for the same person in the same place.
In my recent blog post about things I now own, headed ‘Inventories’, my friend Rebecca commented: ‘Interesting to muse about all that the iPhone provides in a simple lifestyle...Wish they came at less expense & didn't demand frequent recharging, etc.’
That caught my attention, because it touched on a matter I’ve thought about long and hard myself.
There are different ways of living in simplicity ~ the Amish way is one kind, eschewing many forms of modern technology; rural homesteading is another, requiring quite a number of buildings and tools, equipment and livestock; hi-tech pared-down urban apartment dwelling is yet another way; squatting and freegan gift-economy living is one more; intentional community reducing personal possessions by increased sharing (or renouncing personal property altogether) is another.
All these seem to me valid approaches to simplicity, and choosing one way over the alternative options is achieved by working out what is appropriate for the temperament, circumstances and skill set of the individual.
Until very recently, I had a cell phone ~ the cheapest kind of pay-as-you-go basic no-frills Nokia. I also had a camera. I had a portable light (and candles). I had a collection of books and a large folder of music CDs. I had internet connection on my laptop via the wi-fi in our big house here.
Part of the reason I wanted to radically reduce my possessions and get down to the one-bag amount if I can, is because my life seems to have a somewhat nomadic character. I sleep in one place during the week when the Badger is away working in Oxford, another place when he is home. I envisage things may (or not) become a little more nomadic next year. Some of my location bases have wi-fi, others are entirely off-grid with no electricity or running water. I found shuttling about from place to place unsettling, and wanted to create a level of simplicity where I can move from place to place with one bag, just being where I am and using the facilities ~ whatever they may be ~ in that location.
Wherever I am based, I still have to be able to research and write, because most of my income strands require that. An iPhone began to make good sense: it allowed me to get online, and meant I could carry around a phone, light, camera, music facility, audio books and reading books (including Bible and prayer books), internet research and email facilities (because it has mobile internet connection) wherever I go. I still need my laptop for preparing manuscripts and other documents, but with an iPhone the nomadic potential of my life increases immensely.
It is expensive, of course: I got my handset free, but tied in to a monthly contract giving me unlimited texts and calls and a certain amount of time online ~ plenty for research and correspondence. The monthly amount came to about three times my normal cell-phone bill. Because I like to stay frugal and small, I had to look at that very hard. I looked at other expenses I could reduce, so that my overall monthly expenditure could, if anything, go down rather than up ~ I want always to be travelling lighter, not just shifting the freight from one place to another.
Ideally, one day, I’d like to think about how I could reduce still further ~ reduce expenditure and possessions. I’ve already crossed off several items that were on the list in my ‘Inventories’ post.
I think it’s a matter of balance ~ achieving simplicity and a small, hidden life without walking away from the responsibilities and contributions to which God has called me. It’s all about that word Giles used so often: what’s ‘appropriate’, in this life, right here and now. That’s not static but part of a dynamic flow. Acting appropriately implies flexibility and openness to change, and one of the great virtues of living simply is it makes flexibility more possible. Also, the less stuff I own, the more readily I detect what is surplus and unnecessary, so that when it becomes appropriate to pass it on or leave it behind, I can do so.
At the moment I think the iPhone is the right thing; but I know I feel uneasy about being tied in to monthly payments on a contract. I’m happy to take this path for now, but I’ll continue to monitor it, and maybe something else will emerge as more appropriate when it comes time to renew the contract.