Book Review: Living More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre

Living More with Less
Living More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me a long time to read this book. There is a lot to chew on in its pages, and a lot to challenge me towards action within my home and my self, within my community, and within the world at large. I plan to write a more reflective review hopefully in the next day or so, but for now, I just want to note a few things that were particularly interesting to me about this book.

1) This is not just a book for Mennonites. Although it’s clear from some of the cultural references and jargon (for lack of a better term) that this is written from a Mennonite perspective primarily for a Mennonite audience, it has so much of value to offer people from all backgrounds. I’m Unitarian Universalist with an affinity for buddhist teachings and practice, and I found myself thinking many times, “Wow…I had no idea how similar Mennonites and UUs are!” (Although I’m often pleasantly surprised at just how similar seemingly disparate religions are to one another.)

2) This is not a guilt-inspiring book. When I read books like this, about all of the things that we need to change in order to promote environmental wellbeing, political and social equality, and economic justice, I tend to feel hope (“Wow! Look at all of the things that people are doing! I could do that, too!”) followed closely by despair (“Holy cow, this job is way, way too big for me. Even if I totally rearrange my life, my efforts will be only a drop in the bucket.”). I admit, I did at first follow this familiar pattern while reading this book, but the focus and structure of the book helped cushion the fall. Looking at each challenge through the lens of Longacre’s Five Life Standards (Do Justice, Learn From the World Community, Nurture People, Cherish the Natural Order, and Nonconform Freely) helped show simplifying as a change that adds value, rather than one centered on sacrifice. (Hence the title of the book…Living More with Less.)

Brian McLaren’s afterword was the icing on the cake for me. McLaren suggests reading the book and taking on the challenges outlined therein with an outlook of joy and grace rather than guilt. It helped me, too, that he specifically opens up the idea to those who are not Mennonite—or even Christian. While I felt the invitation reading the earlier pages, it was nice to see it spelled out so explicitly. My favorite bit:

“Grace is our best motivation for a more-with-less lifestyle. Having received grace ourselves, we want our neighbors in poverty to receive it, too. Even our enemies need grace, we realize. So do the rivers and streams, the soil and wind…the same goes for the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, the flowers and creatures of the field. We want all to be given all the grace they need to thrive and prosper. It is our joy to live with less so that others may have enough.”

3) This is not only practical advice for simple living. At each step, the topic and suggestions come back to the Five Life Standards. As a result, each suggestion for change has a clear connection to the values and ideals that were outlined at the beginning of the book. It’s not just simplifying for the sake of simplifying, or simplifying in response to a fad or trend. It’s action with a purpose, and that feels much more satisfying and meaningful to me.

At any rate, I’m going to mull this one over a bit, maybe read the beginning again, and see what comes up. I really, really enjoyed this book, even though I had to take it in small doses so as not to overwhelm myself. There is just so much to take in. It’s such a deceptively radical act to consider, living according to our values.

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