My Advent Letter

Below is the text of my Advent letter to the Pastors and Deacons of this synod.  

Dear Colleagues,

Advent is among us.  It’s a time of stirring.  We pray each week for God to stir up - a frightening prayer when you think about it.  In the words of one woman, “I’m praying for God to calm things down, I don’t need stirring… yet I know that God is in the stirring business.”

A few things for you this Advent season:

First.  I encourage you to embrace this time of year.  Carve out space and time for scripture, candles, the variations of blue.  It is a full time, filled with the range of everything from generosity to self-centeredness, from the mystery to the manufactured.  Perhaps no other time of year brings out such a range of responses from people in our society.  While I am disgusted with consumer capitalism run amuck, I confess to thoroughly enjoying hanging the outdoor lights and listening to Peter Mayer’s Stars and Promises CD.  This year, I am attempting to be drawn into the time, which hopefully leads me to solidarity with the suffering of others.  Somehow in that there will be “room” in the Inn, or the Stable, or the back yard or shelter.

Second.  I am increasingly aware of what it is like to be a woman in our society today, more particularly a woman in church leadership.  More and more of you are articulating to me, or members of my staff, the challenges that the past year have brought you in your ministry.  Sexual harassment, discrimination, belittling, etc. are challenges you face on a regular basis.  I’m also hearing a brave call to not be victims, but be strong women of integrity.  I’m open to supporting you in ways I probably don’t fully understand, and want to be with you as an encourager, and advocate.  But, I also, want to say a word to the men.  It is time for us to police our own.  Forgive my crass language here, but let’s be honest.  We’ve allowed this $^!t to go on.  We’ve not called out our colleagues, friends, uncles, brothers, partners for their stupid comments, sexist talk, belittling words and harmful actions. Guys, we need to be candid and begin the hard work of learning how our own fears, failures and longings are at the root of our behaviors toward women.  I’m equally open to finding ways that we can do our own work.   Let’s find ways to change this for the better.   

Third. I have just returned from a significant visit to our companion synod in Jordan and the Holy Land.  Twenty-three of us walked among the stones of ancient ruins, the shores of Galilee and through the wild brush along the Jordan River.  We also walked with our brothers & sisters in the Palestinian Lutheran churches on the West Bank and in Jordan.  I learned much, and would like to share what I learned.  If your conference is interested in hosting a “Lands and People of the Bible: Yesterday & Today,” I am available for such an event.  It would be a talk, some photographs and a Palestinian meal.  The goal is awareness, deepening of our faith, and strengthening our relationship with our Companion Synod.  Contact Lyn ( ) about your interest, and we will look into scheduling options.

Finally, but it’s never over.  Version XI, that would be version 11.0 of the paper “A Church being Reborn,” which we discussed at convocation, is now available.  The latest version has several updates.  First, there are some editorial fixes to language and concepts that you have suggested. More significantly, you will find further reflections in the area of deepening spiritual vitality, some updates to the ministers as entrepreneurial leaders section, and the addition of an addendum based on one congregation’s reading and life experience in the midst of labor.  You can download the latest version here.  This is a public document.  Please feel free to share it with colleagues and discuss it in adult forums, church council meetings, etc.  You will note the addition of some “Stir it Up” artwork.  Could that be a hint of our 2018 theme?  I’m also available to discuss this document with anyone who wishes to engage.  It’s not perfect; it’s a work in progress, and there will be a version 12, and then 13, and so forth.  We are writing and living this together with Jesus.

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that would obstruct your mercy, that willingly we may bear your redeeming love to all the world, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Advent Blessings, Still in One Peace,

Bishop James Hazelwood

Why naming Jerusalem the Capital is Controversial

I've just returned from a 2 and 1/2 week trip visiting Palestinian Christians on the West Bank.  It was a whirlwind tour that took our group of 23 to every congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL for short)  I'll be going back in January for the Consecration and Installation of the new Bishop.

Later today, according to news reports, the current US President will make a declaration of acknowledging Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel.  This highly controversial move is viewed around the world as furthering division, and most likely will sideline any efforts to achieve a meaningful and last Peace.  Why?  This article and the summary video explain it best. But the bottom line is that the move is a clear indication that the US is taking Israel's side in the peace talks.  This means the US looses it's opportunity to be an honest broker or moderator.  It's like having a referee in a game who is on one teams payroll, and is a fan of your side.  The big problem here is that this is no game, this is the central middle east divide. Click here



Politics & Religion Part 1

This blog post will be more ramble than fine tuned essay.

I recently engaged with someone on the topic of religion and politics.  They were holding the position that politics doesn't belong in the pulpit.  My response was "it depends."  I continued by pointing out that it's pretty close to impossible to read the Bible, both Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels of Jesus and not see tribe engaging with forces of empire, poverty, war & peace as well as  a whole range of economic manipulations of people.  

Yet, I also tried to acknowledge the power dynamic of the pulpit.  Let's be honest.  Preaching in such a way that allows the preacher to light up the room with a whole lot of right wing or left wing rhetoric is both irresponsible and unfair.  It's unfair cause your in a one way conversation, i.e. you have all the power.  What's the person in the pew supposed to do?  Break all norms, stand up and scream "I disagree with you.."  It's irresponsible because the preacher is not deeply engaging the scripture and the cultural/political/social context.  They are simply ranting.

Now, having stated the above, I also want to maintain strongly that the Bible is very much a political library.  Most of it it written by and for a people that were living under oppression.  In the Prophets time, that might have been under the Greek, Persian or Assyrian empires.  IN Jesus day, it was under the Roman system, and one could argue a High Priest run system in the religion of his birth.  The scriptures were the poetry of imaginative response to the situation of the day, to roughly quote Walter Brueggeman.

Today, politics is all around us.  No, I'm not talking about Donald Trump, though his public persona is clearly dominating.  I'm referring to everything from our current consumer culture to how the local school board prioritizes for next years curriculum.  I'm referring to the paving of roads to the treatment of people who don't look like you.  I'm referring to an opioid drug crisis, the rapid increase of unhealthy foods and the rampant obsession with our social media narcissism.  Does the Bible speak to that?  Does religion have a voice in any of this?  Of course it does.

The challenge is to help people see the scriptures as having a voice, a critical voice, in our current cultural, social and political context.  To deny that, is to render religion impotent.

More to come...

Going Forward as a Synod of Experimentation

For the last couple months, I've been working on a paper that could form the basis of some principles for the New England Synod.  It is intended to be an ongoing work in progress.  In fact, there have already been 9 versions.  I'm releasing version X today, so I can get out in front of the next iPhone.

Next week, at our bishops convocation, I'm inviting all of our deacons and pastors to discuss this latest version.  I'm also inviting you, readers of this blog, to engage in the conversation.  Let's see where it takes us.

Here is the link to the paper. Click Here

If you have thoughts or comments or suggestions, you can email them to my attention at Thank you.


Lutheran Roman Catholic Dialogue at St. Michaels College

Last week I was invited to be a part of panel discussing the Lutheran Roman Catholic Dialogues.  It is part of a series of Reformation Commemoration events we are sponsoring around the New England Synod.  In addition to myself, there were two academic scholars.  My role was to talk about the practical implications of the relations.  You can listen to an audio recording of my talk by clicking here.



Two Lines: From Calvary to Charlottesville

For two thousand years, the western Christian tradition has had two lines running through it.  (OK, probably more than two, but for the sake of this essay, I’m focusing on two)  Christianity has seen these two lines emerge again and again - One line emphasizing and protecting the establishment or the powerful, another line calling for justice for the dispossessed.

Social Historian Rodney Stark described these lines when he wrote of the lineage of the papacy having an emphasis on power, which is occasionally interrupted by a lineage of piety.  Those popes that emphasized power have dominated this lineage According to Stark, and have focused on incurring wealth, status and authority.  There have been interruptions to this lineage when pietists have been chosen.  It’s clear, in my mind, that Pope Francis manifests a recent example of the pietists’ lineage. This line has emphasized care for the poor, ministries of peace and reconciliation as well as a call to Justice.

During World War II, there were clear divisions in the church in Germany.  On one side you had those acquiescing to the Nazi’s abuse of power, even to the point where Martin Luther’s horrific words about Jewish people were used to justify the holocaust.  Yet, at the same time you had Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonheoffer, leading a movement to resist the Nazi’s.  Two lines, both claiming the faith was on their side.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was challenged on many fronts but one that is not often discussed is the challenge to his reframing of a biblical understanding of race, slavery and civil rights.  King was pushing back against the dominant narrative that was using scripture and theology to justify exploitation of black people.  One of the important aspects of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement was King’s successful neutering of the dominant, largely white, theology that claimed white race superiority.  There were two lines running through American Christianity at that time, and we see it again today.

Christianity as a religion has been coopted by empires and the powerful, and used as a weapon against people, often in service to the rich and the dominant.  Christianity also has a line that runs through its history of siding with those who are oppressed, tortured and neglected.  These lines met again in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend.

Both sides claimed obedience to their faith.  I wonder if Bob Dylan would like to add a new verse to his song “With God on our Side?”

Increasingly our world is forcing everyone to make a choice.  It’s as if there is some force at hand that is pushing us all into a duality.  You are either with us or against us.  My team or their team.  My side or their side.

Are there many sides, as has been suggested?  Yes, there are.  But that doesn’t mean that all sides should be followed, supported or endorsed.  As I think about the two lines that run through the Christian tradition, I’m choosing the less dominant, the marginalized line – indeed I'm choosing a side, and it's the voice that speaks of justice, equality and love.

Not some sugar coated, sweet tasting love.  Not puppy love. Not the love that gets sung about in one hit wonders or romanticized in movies.

I’m thinking of love that gets expressed in acts of courage, moments of sacrifice.  It’s a bold and audacious love.  A love most profoundly expressed on the cross at Calvary.   There the GodMan was crucified for embodying a love that was so frightening to the dominant power structure of his time, both church and state.  

Jesus bleeding for all humanity – longing, hoping, praying.  Dying as an act of love, still clinging, even today, to his vision that we will see in one another – his face.  Yes, when we look at another human being, we are looking at the face of Christ.  To deny that, is to deny Jesus.

The long lines of power and peace continue to weave there way through history, and no doubt will continue until the Peace of God is fulfilled. But, in the mean time, the all too mean, meantime; there comes a time in life when you need to make a choice, and choose which line you are going to stand in.

Where will you stand?

The Legitimate Critique of Minimalism

Several of you have forwarded to me this internet article on a critique of Minimalism.  It’s worth the read, but if you don’t want to, here is my summary.  The point is that only those who can afford to be minimalists, can do so voluntarily.  A second related point of the article is that we tend to turn everything, even minimalism, into a product to buy. There are additional cheap shots at décor and design, as well as straw man arguments of people who shop at IKEA.

First, the points I agree on, then my critique of the critique.  OK.  I’d say the author has a valid point, though it tends to be a bit whinny for my taste.  I mean it’s ok for me to whine, but not others. JThere is validity to a choice to pursue a more minimalist lifestyle is one that those who have can choose.  If you are poor, then you are already a minimalist, and that stinks.  Only rich white guys get the joy and freedom of simplicity. So goes the argument.  There is some merit to this argument. 

For me personally, I have a comfortable middle class life, with a respectable income.  Actually, by global standards it’s outrageously excessive.  My friends in Honduras make less than 10% of what I make in a year.  My comfortable North American US lifestyle affords me many choices, that others don’t have.  I can choose to live a life where I spend less on junk, save more for the future and be outrageously generous.  Yes, I’m also white, and not only male, but I’m 6’7”  All these things place me in a position of great power in this society.  With that comes the freedom of choice.  Not everyone has that freedom – I get that.

The other valid point is the commodification of, well just about everything in our society, even minimalism.  Yes, this is true.  In the words of Andrew Carnegie, “The business of America is business.” (I think it was Carnegie maybe Rockefeller)  We are a consumer driven culture.  The people who have championed minimalism have written books, gone on tours, made films.  Those activities are the same activities of everything from U2 rock tours to the latest business seminar or product.  In addition, those of us who are moving along this minimalism path have purchased books, subscribed to Netflix to watch a documentary.  So, yes, even minimalism can be coopted by the very economic cultural bubble it is challenging.

Now let’s push back on this article as well as other patterns I’m observing.

The clearest point I want to make is best captured in the phrase, “no good deed goes unpunished.”  Increasingly, the chronic anxiety in our culture is fighting to grab those people and movements attempting to make change and pull them back into the homeostasis of the status quo.  The implication of these critiques is a DE legitimization of the whole endeavor.  We are trending in a direction that says the contributions of Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson or Martin Luther are discredited because of their flaws.  Do we toss out the Reformation because Luther was clearly anti-Semitic?  (Yes, I intentionally chose three white men to make this point, because I recognize how the merits of my argument could be harder to hear if I had chosen others)

Was Luther also probably a really unpleasant person around the dinner table? Yes.  Was Jefferson a slave owner? Yes.  Did Woodrow Wilson have segregationist views? Yes.  Does that mean they did not also make valuable contributions to further society?

One of our theological convictions in the Lutheran expression of Christianity is that we are both saint & sinner simultaneously.  I’m endeavoring to write an essay here that is intended to move the conversation along in a positive manner.  Am I also a little defensive of the critique of something that is positively impacting my life? You bet.  Both are true.

A second point that needs to be acknowledged is around the topic of minimalism and the wealthy.  Is minimalism for the wealthy?  Yes.  Yes it is.  We are the ones that most need minimalism.  We in the consumptive US North American are the greatest abusers of greed, and its environmental impact.  It’s economic destabilization.  Mostly, of it’s spiritual vacuity.  Was Sigmund Freud right when he wrote his book, “Civilization and it’s Discontents”?  Are we miserable despite having achieved a standard of living that exceeds all of human civilization? 

So yes, Minimalism is a legitimate response for those of us in the US Middle Class and Up?  We are the ones who need to hear the message.  My friends in Honduras, they don’tneed minimalism –they need economic justice.  You and I buying T-Shirts that are made in San Pedro Sula are not helping them, we are actually empowering an abusive borderline slave labor system in that country.

Finally, a reminder that minimalism is not one thing.  It is not a duality, where you are in or out.  It’s more helpful to think of it as a spectrum.  Yes, some minimalists own 333 things, others don’t own a house and travel the world with only 51 things.  But, others live in Arizona suburbs, with spouses and kids that are not so minimal.  Still others home school their child, and ride a bike everywhere they go in Colorado, including grocery shopping.

I’m on a minimalism journey.  I’m spending less, giving more and saving more.  Do I own a car? Yes.  But, my next one, won’t be a brand new one, and I’ll try to take the one I have as far as it goes.  Do I own a house?  Well, the bank and I do, and I’m working a plan to rid the bank portion quickly. Do I love books?  Yes, but now I use the local library system for about 90% of those books.  I haven’t bought new clothes since last November, and my goal is to make it through all of 2017 before I do so again, and even then what do I need vs want.  How many shirts does a guy need?  My wife and I have decreased our restaurant meals by 80% this year.  We are eating in, enjoying cooking, shopping for local food more.

Why am I doing this?  What’s the real purpose behind it?

Is it because I’m in need of a sense of being morally superior to some people?  Am I looking to justify my judgmental side?  Do I just need another project?  Perhaps those play into this new endeavor.  After all, I like you am a mixed bag of angels and devils.

I’d like to think that my motivations also include a desire to live more consistently into my Christian faith.  Living more simply does give me a clear sense of integrity about being a follower of Jesus.  Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity has helped me here.  In addition, I’m moving along the minimalism path because I am reaching a point in life, at age 58, where I am fatigued of the whole ‘stuff’ thing.  There is just too much crap in life these days.  It’s on TV, it’s on You Tube, it’s in stores.  It’s plastic, it’s cheap and it’s just all clutter.  Is that a midlife thing?  Could be.  Then there is a desire to learn the art of discipline.  I’m finding there is real value in discipline.  When I’m melancholic, and want to buy something, I’m asking new questions.  What’s this about inside me?  What void am I filling?  Why not just live with the melancholy rather than trying to push it away?  Finally, I’m in a reordering of my priorities in life.  What gives me deep pleasure?  It’s increasingly some simple things.  A meal with friends, a bike ride, mowing the lawn or even sitting down to write an essay on minimalism.

My Letter on the Sanctuary Resolution

Dear Members of Congregations and Leaders of the New England Synod,

Earlier this month the New England Synod gathered for its annual assembly in Springfield, MA.  There were 450 voting participants (300 laypersons/deacons and 150 pastors). Among the business items addressed included a resolution on the subject of Sanctuary

The purpose of this letter is to provide some clarification around that resolution.  Before reviewing the specifics of the resolution, I feel it would be beneficial to provide you some background information around process. Therefore, I have divided this communication into three sections:

  1. What is a resolution and how does it come before the Assembly?
  2. What authority does a resolution hold in the Synod?
  3. What does this resolution on Sanctuary mean?

What is a Resolution & how does it come before the Assembly?

As the highest legislative body of this synod, the assembly acts on multiple governance matters including, but not limited to: approval of an annual budget; and election of officers, members of the Synod Council and other Synod Committees. 

In addition, our rules and procedures provide the opportunity for members of this synod to offer resolutions. A resolution calls for an action—often a policy decision—that is concrete, specific, and within the power of the Assembly to implement.  (Note:  These should not be confused with ‘continuing resolutions’ which are amendments to the synods governing documents, namely its constitution and bylaws.)

The process for resolutions to come before the assembly is an open one. This is announced each winter by various means of communication. Anyone in the New England Synod (members of congregations, pastors/deacons, members of the Synod Council etc.)  may introduce a resolution by submitting it at least 45 days in advance of the assembly. 

Resolutions are then reviewed by the Reference & Council Committee, which is elected by the Synod Council. The Reference & Council Committee may adjust the language of the resolution, typically in concert with those who submitted it. Once an agreed upon version is drafted, the resolution is published in the Assembly Handbook (online) and in the Assembly Guidebook. The resolution is then brought to the assembly for consideration.

The resolution is brought before the assembly by the Reference and Council Committee.  This is then followed by discussion/debate on the “resolved” portions of the resolution. The Bishop, serving as the Chair of the Assembly, is charged with the task of managing the discussion/debate or as I like to say, “helping the assembly do its work.” My role is to ensure that a proper and fair process of debate/discussion ensues. This may include attending to any proposed motions, amendments, or questions of order.

What authority does an approved resolution have in our Synod?

A well-written resolution addresses a topic of concern that is a call for action, that is concrete, specific and within the power of the synod to implement.

‘Resolutions’ are brought to the assembly for the purpose of discussion in order to provide guidance to the ministries of the Synod and the Synod Council. No resolution passed at a Synod Assembly has any authority over congregations, members, or rostered ministers (pastors/deacons) of that synod.

One of the confusing matters to many people is what I like to call the ‘hybrid’ polity (polity is another word for church governance) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). What I mean is our “both/and” approach. We lift up a form of congregational autonomy….. while also agreeing to be in a connected system of congregations and synods. 

Many times, I am asked questions that carry with them many assumptions about authority. In relation to the topic of this letter, resolutions passed at a synod assembly do not have authority over congregations, members, or pastors/deacons. Rather, as noted previously, it is to provide guidance, and other specifics (depending on how it is written), to the Synod Council and ministries of the synod.

As to the authority of the resolutions over pastors and congregations, etc., there is only the authority of influence. That is why the language of resolutions is often to “encourage or invite.” 

As a separately incorporated entity, the congregation, the Synod and the ELCA are legally only bound by the actions of their highest legislative body with some exceptions.

What does this resolution on Sanctuary mean?

The resolution on Sanctuary was brought before the June 2017 Assembly. There was a period of discussion/debate during which two amendments were offered, one eliminating a reference to “this administration” and another adding the last resolved regarding immigration reform. Those were approved by the assembly, and then the amended resolution was adopted by the assembly. A copy of the adopted resolution is on the final page of this letter.

The practice of this Synod has been that all approved resolutions are brought to the Synod Council at its next regularly scheduled meeting (September 2017). Typically, there is a discussion about the resolution and what actions, if any, are called for by the resolution. That will be the case with this resolution. The Synod Council will review this resolution, and respond appropriately.  Since the Synod Council is the governing body that acts between Synod Assemblies (which occur once per year in June), it is appropriate to wait for that September Synod Council discussion before engaging in any actions. 

One suggestion that has been made, which we will investigate for future resolutions, is some kind of process that allows for the synod as a whole to have an opportunity to discuss proposed resolutions in advance of the assembly. I think there is merit to this point, and I’ll bring this to the Synod Council as well.

I recognize that some congregations and individuals are looking for clarity in the meantime. Therefore, I will offer my understanding of both this resolution as well as our church governance structure. Here are some options that congregations, individuals, groups etc. may want to engage this resolution, if they choose to:

  • Hold Sunday adult forum conversations or a series of evening discussion and consider inviting people from a number of different perspectives on this topic
  • Form a book study using either Welcoming the Stranger: Justice & Compassion in the Immigration Debate by Soerens & Yang” or They are Us: Lutherans & Immigration by Bouman and Deffenbaugh or another one of your choosing.
  • Invite members of a congregation to meet with nearby organizations that work in the area of refugee resettlement or immigration issues
  • Seek out elected officials to meet with and discuss this subject
  • Engage with organizations, congregations or others who are already involved in the Sanctuary movement, possibly contacting organizations that are named in the resolutioni.e. LIRS (Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services) has both persons who are knowledgeable in this area and also resources to share.  I will add here that any congregation considering becoming a sanctuary would do well to consult with legal counsel, as well as others with experience, before entering into such work.
  • Invite members of your congregation to advocate for immigration reform by writing to congress.
  • Study the ELCA Social Teaching Statement on Immigration

As with all resolutions, this resolution uses language that includes “encourage, assist, coordinate, engage.”  It does not use language that includes “require, demand, expect.” 

In my personal view, resolutions are best used as opportunities to engage people at a point that best fits their starting point, and moves them forward. You and your congregation know that starting point best.

It is my hope that this letter provides some clarity for you and your congregation or ministry setting.



Rev. James Hazelwood


How Minimalism Discovered Me

“You are riding to Ohio?  On a bicycle?”  My dentist was almost speechless.  It was fun to reverse the typical pattern.  We all know what it’s like to be asked questions you can’t answer while in the reclining chair.

The plan was simple.  Meet my friend Kurt, pack up a tent, a sleeping bag, a change of clothes, an extra inner tube and ride.  He was riding to Minnesota, so I’d join him for the first part.  It was roughly 700 miles from New England to my son’s house in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

I’d done this kind of thing before, but I was sixteen for that ride across the Canadian Rockies.  Now, at 57, and off a bicycle for 25 years, this was going to be different.  But, I was up for the challenge.  I spent a year training, both at the gym, as well as on the roads of my home state in Rhode Island.

I didn’t know it at the time, but these would be the early steps of my introduction to minimalism.

For ten days, we road roughly 70 miles per day, most of it along the Erie Canal Bike Path until it dropped us at the edge of Niagara Falls, where we picked up the roads heading west.  We camped most every night, with the exception of a hotel stay during a vicious thunder and lightning storm.  The days and nights developed into a rhythm that consisted of the basics – riding, eating, and sleeping.  And there was a freedom to the simplicity.  I found there was no time to think about work, no desire to check my Twitter feed, no distractions from the simple push on the pedals.

Six months later I stumbled onto the word, the movement, a book and then a movie.  Minimalism.  Motivated to rediscover what is life when we strip all the crap out of it, my wife and I are on a journey toward simplicity.

Spring-cleaning this year allowed me to let go of half my clothes, shelves of books, and a purge of unused tools.  Next came a garage sale, a commitment to pay off our debts, I even parted with my motorcycle.  Some people felt sorry for me, but with each letting go, I was finding I had less weight around me.  Others were jealous, “how do you do it, I can’t let go.”

As summer roles around, I’m outside more on my bike.  The simplicity of the machine motivates me.  There are two wheels, hung on a frame, connected by a chain, and powered by me.  Rides are not exercise routines, though they are that, they are moving meditations.  There is the rhythm of the breathing, the consistent cadence of rotations, even the interruptions of gears shifting and clanging - again the freedom of simplicity.

Like many in our consumer driven culture, I live in the wilderness of temptation constantly.  The acquisition bug is my constant companion.  It even infects my two-wheeled vehicle of simplicity.  Magazines and websites to consider another purchase - a new helmet, a new jersey, a new bike, lure me.  I succumb from time to time, but what is different now is an enjoyment of the wrestling match.  In the past, I would just buy. Think about how to pay for it later. Now, the questions of need versus want, thrill versus value, instant gratification versus long term goals.  It may sound strange, but I look at things differently now.  The internal dialogue is rooted in something deeper, namely a desire to be focused, attentive and grounded.

Oh, I’m no monk, no stoic guru.  I’ve got my epicurean indulgences, which focus around fruits and vegetables, a fine grilled salmon and a glass of Chardonnay.  But, cooking and meal preparation is replacing the nearby Oyster Bar.  And yes, I’m still a lover of books, but our state library system is a delight, and quite the budget help.  Then there is an afternoon espresso, this cyclist’s main raison d’etre.  These indulgences now have more value, rather than mindless activities of consumption.

At a younger more idealistic age, I held a philosophy of living on less for the good of the planet, but that’s all it was - a philosophy.  Now, for the first time in my adult life, I’m finally finding an integration of my values and my lifestyle.  As I move along this journey of minimalism, it is the beginning of syncing up the ideal and the real that is most satisfying.  I’m finally starting to be the person I’ve always wanted to be, someone with integrity.

It’s this discovery that provides the greatest reward, and the bicycle is the tool to get me there.

'If' by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, 

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, 

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: 


If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken 

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: 


If you can make one heap of all your winnings 

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 

And lose, and start again at your beginnings 

    And never breathe a word about your loss; 

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you 

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ 


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 

    If all men count with you, but none too much; 

If you can fill the unforgiving minute 

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Simplicity, Minimalism, Mr. Money Moustache and Financial Peace

This past weekend, we held a garage sale at our home.  The main purpose was to clear out stuff that we don't use, can't use, never used or just don't want.  That was the goal, and it was a success.  "One persons junk is another's treasure."  We cleared about $300, but the main point was to cleanse.

Lisa and I are in the midst of living in to a newer lifestyle.  During our sabbatical, we had a chance to investigate a relatively new phenomenon called "Minimalism."  The chief spokespersons, though there are many are two 30 something guys called "The Minimalists."  The best summary can be found in the the film Minimalism.  The trailer is below.

I commend the film to you.  You can find it easily on Netflix.

But this is not something new, as Richard Foster, the Quaker theologian, reminded us in his book The Freedom of Simplicity.  I stumbled upon it in a used book store, or was it a leading of the Holy Spirit or a form of Synchronicity?  Foster doers an excellent job of laying out the biblical and the historical precedence for a life of simplicity.  In short, this is our heritage as followers of Yahweh, Moses, Jesus, St. Francis, Luther and King.

A fellow pastor mentioned Mr. Money Moustache as a contemporary guy who is living in to this simpler lifestyle.  He's a quirky character, who made his bucks in Software Engineering, and now lives off what he made, BUT he only spends $23,000 - $27,000 a year.  

But, it was Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University that has helped me most with a plan.  Dave is an aggressive guy, and his theology is a little simplistic (big on Proverbs, short on New Testament) but his money planning is very clear.  I've found him helpful.  He doesn't mess around, largely because he encounters lots of people who don't take financial planning seriously.  I commend the course to you, with the warning that Dave makes lots of assumptions about couples being heterosexual, as well as his gender norms can be off (women like to buy clothes, guys like Home Depot)  A good summary of the course can be found in this profile article.

All of this has been put into a blender that mean's we are focused on paying off debts, saving for the future, simplifying our lifestyle, going to the library, getting rid of crap, spending time and money on people and experiences, oh, and enjoying the opportunity to be outrageously generous.

There is indeed, freedom in simplicity.