Close up: Simple living offers antidote to material addiction

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – 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 television – 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 said.

It’s statements like that and that way of life that models good stewardship, said their pastor, the Rev. Diane Nunnelee.

When a man in their church needed a place to stay, Nunnelee said, 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 said.

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

Affluenza. 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 Jones; an epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream; an unsustainable addiction to economic growth.”

“We’ve lost the sense of what’s enough,” Nunnelee said.

But simple lifestyles don’t have to be Spartan, according Janet Luhrs of Seattle, editor of Simple Living Oasis magazine.

“So many people have simplicity confused with living in chicken coops,” she said.

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 said.

Heart for missions. The Rev. Ken Lutgen, a former director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, preaches a global point of view and 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 said. “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 said. “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 said.

She and her husband don’t buy gifts to celebrate their anniversary, she said: “Our gift to each other is filling our house with friends.”

Lutgen said, “With stewardship, there’s the power to transform a person’s life with how they use the gifts and graces that they have.”

Nunnelee said, “People get so wrapped up in saying it’s about money, but it’s a stewardship of life. Stewardship is about your relationship with God and how that shapes your using your life in service.”


Related article:

Try these tips for ‘affluenza’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Got a bad case of “affluenza” and you don’t know what to do? Here’s a prescription.

* Give to others whose needs are greater than yours.

* Limit television.

* Read old-fashioned Christmas stories aloud with your family.

* Read the Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas eve or at another time during Advent – Luke 2:1-20 and Matthew 2:1-12.

* Stay aware of suffering in the world.

* Plan ahead.

* Learn about the real St. Nicholas.

* Make a nice dinner and deliver it.

* Give your spouse a coupon for a massage.

* Take an elderly friend or relative to lunch.

* Take a child for a day of in-line skating, sledding, swimming or visiting the zoo.

* Avoid debt.

* Avoid stress.

* Draw names for Christmas gifts.

* Give children one thing they really want.

* Give appropriate gifts and alternative gifts, such as donations to a charity.

* Give coupon books for things such as your housecleaning or a car oil change.

* Celebrate Advent for four weeks with the booklet Whose Birthday Is It Anyway? from Alternatives for Simple Living.

* Put the gifts under the tree shortly before opening them. Open one gift at a time.

* Make changes slowly but persistently.

* Make gift-card donations to hunger programs or food banks in your community.

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