So it’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a season where Christians seek to give up things and empty themselves in honor of the sacrifice God made on the cross, His Son, Jesus.
And while I didn’t exactly plan it this way, as I read Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An experimental mutiny against excess, I thought its themes tied in with the sacrificial nature of the season.
7 is a peek at one woman’s journey away from selfishness toward selflessness, away from consumerism toward communion, away from me-first theology to love-your-neighbor action. For seven months, Jen Hatmaker focused on one area of excess in her life each month: clothes, shopping, waste, food, possessions, media and stress. For each month, she narrowed or limited each area to seven items, places or actions. For example, during the clothing month, her wardrobe was limited to 7 items. During waste month her family adopted 7 ways to live a greener lifestyle.
Hatmaker writes about her experience in journal-like form, and her insights, failures and successes come across like a chat over coffee rather than legalistic mandates. She writes at one point near the end of the experiment: “This isn’t a sage’s manifesto but a sinner’s repentance.” (page 157)
I am ruined in a good way because of this book. Hatmaker’s radical experiment loosed the chains of selfish consumerism in her life and opened a window to a world of poverty, creation care and loving her neighbor. Great insights. Practical steps. Humor. Grace. I loved every piece of this book and read at least one paragraph per chapter out loud to my husband (to his delight *sarcasm*). I laughed. I cried. I am deeply convicted.
Here are a couple of my favorite (most challenging) portions:
My luxuries come at the expense of some of God’s best handiwork: forests, petroleum, clean air, healthy ecosystems. We also ravage the lands of vulnerable countries, stripping their resources for consumption. The wealthy world has a sordid history of colonization, ruling by force over indigenous people and profiting from their natural resources and local labor. Yes Africa, we’ll take your diamonds, gold and oil, but you can keep your crushing poverty and disease. (136)
There is something so nourishing about sharing your living space with people where they see your junk mail pile and pee wee football schedule on the fridge and pile of shoes by the front door. Opening your home says, “You are welcome into my real life.” … It’s unsanitized and truthful. We invite you into this intimate place, saturated with our family character. (176)
The working poor get lost in the shuffle. … The usual clues that point to poverty are ambiguous for those in the gap. The working poor are one missed shift from homelessness, one lost paycheck from hunger, one overdue bill from repossession. However, they learn to camouflage nicely into society. … In many ways they are invisible. (84)
By the end of the book, Hatmaker emphasizes that this is not a blueprint for everyone to follow. Where she lives, who she is, how her family operates–these are the pieces of the 7 puzzle that can’t be duplicated. So, an experimental mutiny against excess will look different for different people.
She recently released a small group curriculum to accompany the book. That would be an invaluable resource for churches, Bible studies or women’s groups.
As we proceed with the Lenten season, I will carry the lessons of 7 with me and look for ways to incorporate simplicity into my seemingly unsimple life.
(P.S. If you liked Rachel Held Evan’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood, you would like this book. Comparable writing style and blend of humor and conviction.)