Book Reviews

Less is More

January 19, 2013

Less is MoreI imagine I’m not the only who feels that life is constantly busy and full-on, so Brian Draper’s new book promised to be just the sort of thing I needed to give me a bit of space and reflective time. I wasn’t disappointed.

Less is More: Making Room for your Soul in the Busyness of Life (Lion Hudson: 2012) is written to speak into our consumer-driven culture, with its constant message of ‘more, bigger, faster’. It takes us through a helpful process of getting us to look at ourselves; think through what is important in life; consider the direction our life is taking and whether that is really the direction we want to be travelling in; make some decisions around small things that we can do each day to pause and savour life more; and generally reflect on how we can resist the call of consumerism in order to live a life that is both inwardly and outwardly attuned to the Spirit of Life.

The content is divided into six main sections, with each section consisting of between three to five short chapters. As such, it would work really well as a daily reflection or as a book to be used in a small group discussion setting. Each chapter finishes with a short summary, which are put together at the end to form the ‘More With Less Manifesto’. This was probably the highlight of the book for me, with really helpful insights and suggestions, and it clearly arises from deep reflection and insight. If one were to live a life based on this manifesto, one would indeed live a life at odds with our culture.

Brian writes beautifully and evocatively, albeit sometimes slightly too poetically for my liking. There were times when I found the writing a bit opaque and wanted to ask, ‘that sounds beautiful but what does it actually mean?’! An observation rather than a criticism, I would imagine that Brian and I occupy different spaces in terms of our learning styles. Sometimes I just wanted what he was saying to be a bit more obvious!

There are two tightropes that Brian is trying to walk along as he writes. The first, I am guessing, is a reflection of his work as someone who is trying to extend his Christian faith and values beyond traditional Church circles and into the wider world. It is interesting that, apart from one quote, there is no mention of Jesus until right at the very end (and only one use of the word ‘God’ in the whole book). Instead, he talks about the Spirit of life and the Source of life.

As I will explain shortly, the concept of simplicity (my shorthand for what the book is about), for me, only makes full sense in the person of Jesus and so I found Brian’s vagueness and reticence to nail his colours to the mast until the end a bit frustrating. I imagine, though, that Brian is aiming at a wider audience than the Christian market and indeed I think this book will work best for people who do not stand four-square within the Christian faith. In fact, I have already given the book to a friend who I’m hoping will be led nearer to Jesus as a result.

The second tightrope is a tension that exists right at the heart of Christianity’s interface with consumerism and is encapsulated in Augustine’s famous prayer: ‘thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee’.  Rather than using God as a means to fulfil the desire of the individual self, in this prayer we discover that the desire of consumerism for self-fulfilment is only met when buried in the life of the Trinitarian God.

Writings on consumerism and simplicity have to be careful that the very desire to simplify one’s life in order to gain a better quality of life does not itself stem from consumerism’s search for self-fulfilment (Minghella’s quote on the back cover steers dangerously close to this when she says this book will help you find ‘the life you want’). In other words, a life of simplicity that is not rooted in a strong understanding of justice, righteousness and peace for the whole community of creation, ultimately, is vacuous and simply reflects the narcissistic culture from which we are trying to break away. Notions of the ‘Spirit/Source of life’ are not enough to provide that thick understanding: that only comes from the person of Jesus and his Kingdom. I understand the tricky negotiations that Brian is trying to make (and I know I don’t always maintain this balance well myself when I’m writing and speaking on this issue), but I am not convinced he always manages it as successfully as he might.

No book is perfect however. This one certainly contains a wealth of wisdom and some really helpful suggestions. Consumerism has impacted all sectors of society – both Christian and wider – often with devastating consequences, and we need urgently to redress the balance and learn the value of discovering that less really is more.

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  • Reply Penny January 19, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    You may be interested to look at ‘The Community of Aidan and Hilda’, a dispersed ecumenical monastic community which has been going for nearly 20 years and is built on 3 major principles of Simplicity, Purity and Obedience and makes suggestions for 10 Waymarks which create an individual Way (rule or guide) of Life. They also espouse the concept of Soul Friendship for all members. Google for more info if interested. I have been joined to this Community for several years and have found it very helpful in leading an authentic and do-able Christian lifestyle.

    • Reply ruthvalerio January 19, 2013 at 6:15 pm

      Hi Penny, yes I know them and know some others who are a part of them – like you say, they’re really good and a very helpful way of walking in this whole area. Thanks.

  • Reply kalicet January 20, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    sounds like an interesting book – I was given “enough” by Will Samson for Christmas.. now i just have to find the time to read it…

    • Reply ruthvalerio January 21, 2013 at 7:47 pm

      Always the problem! Nice to meet you here.

  • Reply Less is more « Breathe January 21, 2013 at 10:33 am

    […] is an additional review of the book here from Ruth […]

  • Reply lizacooke January 21, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Thank you, Ruth; you’ve made me want to read it because of how you’ve reviewed it….so that’s now another book to fetch when we pop back to the UK sometime later this year.

    • Reply ruthvalerio January 21, 2013 at 7:46 pm

      You can have my copy when you do! x

      • Reply Liza Cooke January 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm

        Thank you very much. x

  • Reply Phil Steer (@asachildbook) March 28, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Thank you for this.
    Your warning “to be careful that the very desire to simplify one’s life … does not itself stem from consumerism’s search for self-fulfillment” is something that I have pondered myself.
    Given the undoubted attractions and benefits of a simplified life – for all, regardless of spiritual belief – in what way might my Christian faith make a distinctive difference to the way in which I might pursue simplicity? And equally (if not more importantly), in what way might such a pursuit of simplicity make a distinctive difference to my Christian faith?
    But, of course, living as God desires is not the preserve of those of faith. It is right for each and every one of us to demonstrate love, justice, mercy, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience (and much more besides) – regardless of whether we recognise and acknowledge the ultimate source of such goodness.
    In the same way, if in seeking simplicity we align ourselves more closely with God’s desire for us – as individuals, as communities, as humanity – then surely it is better to do this for the “wrong” reasons that not to do it at all? (And, let’s be honest, even those of us who might profess a Christian faith often have rather mixed motives for what we do – some “godly”, some less so.)
    And perhaps in simplifying our lives, we might find ourselves (perhaps even unwittingly) drawing closer to God’s kingdom – or at least more able to hear his call to us?
    So, whilst I do think your caution is an important one, I also wonder if it might be best not to get too hung up on it – but rather to seek simplicity anyhow, as a good and right and proper thing to do, and (for those with faith) to trust God for the rest.

    (I have a copy of “Less in More”, and look forward to reading it soon.)

  • Reply ruthvalerio March 28, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Hi Phil, thanks for this, and yes you’re right of course, better to live simply for the ‘wrong’ reasons than not at all – and let’s face it, we’re all a bundle of mixed motivations anyway aren’t we? I guess I just wanted to highlight this particular danger as I’ve seen it in some other recent writings on simplicity and consumerism (I won’t name them here) and I do think we do need to be careful. I’ve just completed my doctoral thesis and was looking at this very issue – through the lens of considering how Aquinas sees the relationship between the virtues of temperance and justice. For him, it isn’t truly temperance as a virtue unless it is caught up in justice, and I found that challenging. All the best to you, Ruth

  • Reply Phil Steer (@asachildbook) April 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    HI Ruth,

    Belatedly, many thanks for taking the time & trouble to reply. I do agree, it is something that we must be alive to, and your linking of true simplicity to “justice, righteousness and peace for the whole community of creation” is certainly not something I’d considered so directly.

    Incidentally, I note that I inadvertently referred to Brian’s book as “Less *in* More”. Sadly, I suspect that this captures an uncomfortable truth – many of us (or me,at least) desire the beneficial “less” of simplicity whilst keeping hold of the “more” of so much of our comfortable, consumerist lifestyle!

    With best wishes, Phil

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