Week 2: Another’s Brass

This week, I accomplished little in the effort toward simplicity. Greta’s promised room cleanup never happened. The laundry piled higher and higher. I barely emptied the dishwasher in time to fill it again.

I have my excuses. I worked over 20 hours this week, homeschooled, and I coached all day Saturday but I don’t like excuses. I’m tired of them. I hate them. What use do they have?

Then, I flipped open Walden and discovered Thoreau‘s been spying on my family.

English: Portrait by Benjamin D. Maxham (dague...

Some of you, we all know, are poor, find it hard to live, are sometimes, as it were, gasping for breath. I have no doubt that some of you who read this book are unable to pay for all the dinners which you have actually eaten, or for the coats and shoes which are fast wearing or are already worn out, and have come to this page to spend borrowed or stolen time, robbing your creditors of an hour. It is very evident what mean and sneaking lives many of you live, for my sight has been whetted by experience; always on the limits, trying to get into business and trying to get out of debt, a very ancient slough, called by the Latins aes alienum, another’s brass, for some of their coins were made of brass; always promising to pay, promising to pay, tomorrow, and dying today, insolvent;

Another’s brass.

Roman Coin with Augustus (Octavian)

And what a slough it is. In our culture of credit slavery, the air weighs heavy with oppression. The days pound in steady rhythm like a chain gang striking the spikes into rails.

Contemporary culture is plagued by the passion to possess. The unreasoned boast abounds that the good life is found in accumulation, that “more is better.” Indeed, we often accept this notion without question, with the result that the lust for affluence in contemporary society has become psychotic: it has completely lost touch with reality. Furthermore, the pace of the modern world accentuates our sense of being fractured and fragmented. We feel strained, hurried, breathless. The complexity of rushing to achieve and accumulate more and more frequently threatens to overwhelm us; it seems there is no escape from the rat race. Freedom of Simplicity, by Richard Foster

Promising to pay, promising to pay, tomorrow… and dying today. Dying today. Somehow in this search for simplicity, I hope to live. I wish to live my days and not be crushed by them; ride the minutes and not have them cascade down like an avalanche and bury me.

How ironic I began this post with the words, “I accomplished little in the effort toward simplicity.” This will be harder than I thought. Words like try, effort, achieve, accomplish, get, obtain, grasp, possess, and reach, are deeply ingrained in me and, perhaps, need be struck out of my vocabulary if I am ever to rest. If I succeed (another word which rubs against simplicity), I must forever swim upstream in a river of goals, mission statements, calculators, possessions, money, and hurry.

Spiritual and psychological books promise simplicity is a state of mind and not circumstances. Is it true? Can I be freed by Christ‘s words? “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Can I trust God to care for me as he does the sparrows? Will he dress me like the fields?

This is how my mind works. I think, Those sparrows don’t look very restful. They actually look kind of frantic. Look at them bobbing up and down, fighting over a seed or two, chasing one another from the puddle. I’m not sure I wish God to care for me like the sparrows. I’d rather be an osprey and have the power to crash into the water and lift out my meal and tear it to pieces.

I laugh at myself arguing with scripture, a tell-tale fact of my inability to trust, to

Field Sparrow singing 20110505

depend. I watch the frantic sparrows. Then, I spot one on a twisted rope of barbed wire, head back, throat open, singing its heart out. The call is rich, joyful, and full of praise and it is then, at that moment, I envy the sparrow — so carefree, momentarily forgetting the cat in the grass or the shortening days. Perhaps we collect moments of freedom like pearls, one by one, to make up a string.

Yet, I cannot believe moments of freedom is the life promised. Moments of freedom are not a state of being. I want to, no, I must, believe freedom is lived and breathed and thought and experienced. All the time. Day in and day out. Every moment.

Simplicity can be achieved.

Caught myself again. I examined the above statement and realize it’s wrong. It’s too American, too self-made, too passive (in regards to simplicity) and too active (in regards to me). I imagine simplicity is more like a bar of wet soap — grasp it too hard and I’ll lose it. Or like those dreams of flying — if you try too hard, you sink, and if you relax too much, you sink — there’s a sweet spot which won’t sing if forced or ignored.

Simplicity is a grace and a journey.

That’s a better statement.

A grace is a gift unmerited. I pray for that. As I examine the word “journey”, I realize this isn’t right either. The word “journey” implies initiative, fortitude, and singleness of mind. We love such words. These words make us feel powerful and strong. Warriors.

Simplicity is a retreat from all that. Simplicity is letting go. Simplicity is releasing power. Our times cry out for this. Less power. Less relevance. Less talk. Less.



  1. I love this! This is exactly what I’m STRUGGLING with….not just big purchases, but all the little mindless, seemingly “needed” purchases at the time. I took 3 bags of Target/Wal-Mart/Lowe’s items back that I’d purchased since early December tonight. I gained back $56! But oh, the time lost searching for, purchasing, stocking the house, gathering up, taking it back, using gas all the way…..what I really miss is the TIME I can’t get back w/family. LOVE THIS: Simplicity is a grace and a journey. So true!!


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