Less is More

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.