From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Close Up: Simple living offers antidote to 'affluenza'

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Mon, 2 Dec 2002 14:31:05 -0600

Dec. 2, 2002  News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn. 

NOTE: "Close Up" is a regular UMNS feature that takes an in-depth look at
issues of the day. Photographs and two sidebars, UMNS stories #558 and #559,
are available.

Having, first, gained all you can, and secondly, saved all you can, then give
all you can. - John Wesley

A UMNS Report
By Julie K. Buzbee*

It's almost dinnertime, and the kitchen at the Wesches' house in Kansas City,
Mo., is a hub of activity. Laura Wesche is chopping vegetables and dropping
them into a bubbling pot of what will be chicken noodle soup.

"When we don't know what to have, we boil a chicken," she says, as husband
Gary nods in agreement.

Two of their three children, Brandon, 11, and Amanda, 5, pop in and out,
munching on freshly sliced bread. Nathan, 14, is playing football in an
out-of-town game.

Talk flows freely. Unlike many homes, you won't find a television set
blaring. In fact, you'll have a hard time finding the TV - there is only one
in the large home. And that lone TV is not connected to cable.

"Cable is a major temptation," Laura says. "It was a conscious decision never
to have it."

Family and church life are important to the Wesches, who belong to Central
United Methodist Church in Kansas City.

"If a family spends their money to have 500 channels on a TV set, then they
don't have to talk to each other at all," Laura says.

Statements like that, and a way of life that models good stewardship,
prompted their pastor, the Rev. Diane Nunnelee, to think of the Wesches when
asked to recommend a family living out the Gospel. 

When a man in their church needed a place to stay, Nunnelee says, the Wesches
took him in. He remains a tenant in their home a year later.

People in the United States have the wrong perspective in more than one way
when it comes to material goods, Nunnelee says.

"We talk about how blessed we are. No, we're advantaged. Blessings from God
don't come in what we have materially," she says. "This society is so
seductive. For those who need it, who have to have it, it becomes addictive."

That addiction has a name, "affluenza," thanks to Vicki Robin, co-author with
Joe Dominguez of the book Your Money or Your Life.

Others, too, are addressing affluenza. The Public Broadcasting System has
made two documentaries on affluenza, defining it as "the bloated, sluggish
and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the
Joneses; an epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by
dogged pursuit of the American Dream; an unsustainable addiction to economic

It's not just secular society that is guilty. Christians share in that guilt,
Nunnelee says.

"We've lost the sense of what's enough," she says.

Her district superintendent, the Rev. Ken Lutgen of Heartland Central
District in the Missouri West Conference, agrees.

A former director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Lutgen
preaches a global point of view.

"If you ask a typical Christian if they're rich," he says, their response
will be, "'Why no, at best we're middle class.' People look at the abundance
of resources of what we have rather than in the larger global context. We
really have a lot of resources that could make a difference in the world in
the lives of poor people and developing countries. The problem is we really
don't have a global vision," he says.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, did have a global vision and a heart
for the poor, says the Rev. Theodore Runyon, professor emeritus at United
Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.

Wesley's works offer a whole judgment on American culture, Runyon says. He
recommends three sermons in particular: "The Use of Money," "The Danger of
Riches" and "Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity."

"The way we use that which is entrusted to us is a way in which we're
answerable to God," Runyon says.

'Abominable' giving

Stewardship often is equated with money, and giving is important because
dollars allow the church to undertake vital missions, church leaders say.
Tithing alone can do great things, says the Rev. Tex Sample, professor
emeritus of Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City who now lives in

"If we could get people in the church to give 10 percent of their income,
that would be a revolutionary act," he says. "The giving in the United
Methodist Church is abominable." He adds that he and his wife, Peggy, give 12
percent of their income plus time and talent.

Nunnelee says she learned what tithing really means a few years ago, when her
mission work in South Africa brought her into contact with a woman named
Margaret. In their first encounter, Margaret - who was on crutches and living
in a shanty - asked forgiveness because she hadn't met her pledge to the

"When was the last time one of us asked to be forgiven?" the pastor asks.
"This was about a vow she'd made to God out of thanksgiving."

The Wesches give 10 percent of Laura's IBM salary to their church and use
other income to support other charities and arts organizations. But there's
more to stewardship, Laura says.

"We believe the instructions in Scripture to be more than giving of income,
but giving of time and talents," she says. 

Doing so keeps us accountable to God, says the Rev. Tony Campolo, a Christian
author and speaker featured in "Curing Affluenza," a six-part video series.

"Everybody knows that the Bible calls us to a simple lifestyle; we just don't
want to face up to it," he says. He acknowledges that his life on the road
isn't simple because he's housed in hotels and fed good meals.

But simple lifestyles don't have to be Spartan, says Janet Luhrs of Seattle,
editor of Simple Living Oasis magazine. "So many people have simplicity
confused with living in chicken coops." 

Simple living

Luhrs focuses on how people make a difference in the world and defines
simplicity this way: working and shopping less, spending more time with
friends and families, volunteering in communities and enjoying life more.

"Faith gives you a desire for a deeper, richer life, and simplicity gives you
the tools to make that happen," she says. 

One of her peers in the simplicity movement, Gerald Iversen, national
coordinator of Alternatives for Simple Living, concurs.

"We take a very holistic view of simplicity," he says. "It's not just a
matter of growing your own tomatoes. The first step is the personal, the
second is the interpersonal, the third is what we call advocacy."

He advocates simple living as an antidote to societal ills such as credit
cards, personal debt, shopping malls, big SUVs, depleting the earth's
resources, and not spending time with family. 

He backs his claims with a battery of statistics. "Forty percent of U.S.
credit card holders cannot pay off their credit cards every month; the amount
of direct contact time the average North American father has with his
children is two minutes a day; and we are using up the Earth's resources now
20 percent a year faster than the Earth can restore them."

John S. Hill, program director for environmental justice at the United
Methodist Board of Church and Society in Washington, also has a statistic
from the New York Times that he uses: "Total waste per person in the U.S. was
4.51 pounds per day in 2000 (or 1,646 pounds per year - of which 496 pounds
is recycled)."	

Such appalling numbers cry out for change, and the church must respond, Hill

"Now more than ever, the church must speak with a bold, prophetic voice
offering a vision of abundant living centered around God and grounded in a
theology of 'enough,'" he says. 

United Methodist views about "God's Vision of Abundant Living" and
"Environmental Stewardship" can be found in the denomination's Book of
Resolutions, he notes.

"One aspect of abundant living ... is to appreciate what we have been given,"
Laura Wesche says. "We think of our home as God's house, of which we are
'curators.' ... We use it for fund raising, fellowship and other
opportunities God gives us."

Alternatives for Simple Living offers many ideas in its booklet Whose
Birthday Is It Anyway? Ideas for a Christ-Centered Holiday 2002.

And Lutgen suggests celebrating the Festival of the Kings on Epiphany instead
of having a Christmas party. Rather than bring a gift to the district
superintendent, he asks pastors to give to their favorite ministry. He
recalls that the Christmas offering rose from about $500 to $4,100 one year
"simply because we gave them a different way."

A heart for missions

Lutgen has another idea about how to sensitize people to overconsumption.
"What I hope people will do is commit themselves to some kind of immersion
experience in a Third World setting," he says. "I took 95 people to
Mozambique this summer. I've heard testimony after testimony about how this
simple little program has transformed lives." 

Gary Wesche recalls a mission trip that he took to South Africa two years ago
with his son, Nathan. Gary had seen similar living conditions in the 1980s,
on mission trips to Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. 

"What I learned in South Africa, I learned through the eyes of my 12-year-old
son, who was with me," Gary says. "I realized then, even stronger, that you
don't wait to be an adult to be in mission. My responsibility as a father is
to give my children a heart for missions." 

That trip, along with several others in the United States, taught the Wesches
much about hospitality. Members of their church have said the family's
greatest gift is hospitality.

"We've always had the drive to share our house, share our family," Laura
says. She and her husband don't buy gifts to celebrate their anniversary, she
adds. "Our gift to each other is filling our house with friends."

"With stewardship, there's the power to transform a person's life with how
they use the gifts and graces that they have," Lutgen says.

Even the youngest Wesches can recite what's important: "Prayers, presence,
gifts and service."

"People get so wrapped up in saying it's about money," Nunnelee says, "but
it's a stewardship of life. Stewardship is about your relationship with God
and how that shapes your using your life in service."
# # #
*Buzbee is a journalist residing in St. Joseph, Mo.

Coming in January: Close Up looks at the increasing popularity of religious
fiction, such as the "Left Behind" series, and the theology such books offer.

United Methodist News Service
Photos and stories also available at:

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home