the week of prayer for Christian unity, and I think in church this Sunday we
might expect to hear sermons urging us to bury our differences and unite as one
family in Christ.
have a problem with burying our differences.
something I’ve now been urged to do several times in my life. When someone has
done me an injustice, then later wants to pick up the relationship and proceed
as if nothing had happened, let a friendship begin or resume, I’ve been
encouraged (by the irenic spirit who travels through life at my side) to forget
the past and embrace the nascent signs of positivity. But I won’t. I won’t
build the walls of the house on top of a dodgy and inherently fragile – even
fractured – foundation. We get the foundation right first, them we build, is my
have had the opportunity to work as a free-church minister alongside Church of
England clergy, so have stood in a position to perceive their insistence on
securing and maintaining a position of advantage – even monopoly and supremacy.
I have observed as the Church of England secured and defended (in prisons,
hospitals, hospices, colleges etc) paid chaplaincy posts, insisting that these
pass on through a C of E dynasty. The free-church ministers could participate
in the chaplaincy teams, yes – as volunteers. Chaplaincies often pay better
rates than parish ministry.
I live, it was once the custom that when someone died and had no especial
church affiliation, but their next of kin requested a Christian funeral, the
selection of officiant was left to the funeral director chosen by the family.
In the early noughties, the C of E woke up to the reality that here was an area
of monopoly they had neglected. So they – with no consultation except among
themselves – informed the crematorium staff, and the various funeral directors
in the neighbourhood, that in future there would be a rota of C of E clergy
attached to the crematorium. In case of someone dying with no particular
religious affiliation, it would now be the duty of the crematorium or funeral
director to select and officiant from the rota of C of E clergy. This, in my
view, is more than inappropriate – it is profoundly unjust.
have the same problem about burying our differences as I have about digging in
the weeds when preparing a vegetable patch. If you dig them out – take the
trouble to root out all the weeds, your veggies grow in a clean patch. If you
dig them in, you get veggies but also a forest of weeds all watered and fed by
the care you give the patch as a whole.
I am not in favour of burying our differences. To do so always tips the balance
in favour of the greedy and unjust. It’s like a parent who intervenes in an
argument between to children, when one has taken the other’s sweets or toys,
and is interested only in that there is
a fight, not why there is a fight.
am always, without exception, willing to try and understand the point of view
of people who have something against me, and I am always willing to settle our
differences. But I will not bury them. They might not be dead.
couple of posts ago I wrote a piece called The Four Minimalists, thinking about
different approaches to living simply. In the comment thread, Heather wrote
“I find myself confused. I found the de-cluttering
process hard going but cathartic, as if I had streamlined my whole body by
getting rid of unwanted 'noise' in the house. But now, as I come to the end of
the journey I am starting to feel that I need to do something to make it
reflect back our personality, which is something of my new resolution.
Perversely, there is a part of my that longs to have Molly Weasley's house!”
I know just what she
KonMari (I love her!) has taken the
de-cluttering world by storm, resulting in social media abounding with
before-and-after photos of homes pared to the bone. Kitchens with nothing on
view but the fitted cabinets. Living rooms with a couch and a TV. And maybe a
plant. Hallways with a small corner cupboard supporting an ornament. Maybe. Or
just the cupboard.
I guess what happens is
that after a while people settle back into their space, and it begins to feel
I thought I’d share
some pics of the living space I share with the Badger, to propose an
alternative take on things – a fusion of minimalism and simplicity without
necessarily being very tidy or even all that clean. It needs dusting right now, and I have done nothing whatever to tidy it. But it looks okay because we haven't enough stuff to make a mess.
He and I have a small
attic apartment in a house where four other people live. Space is at a premium,
so it’s no good accumulating stuff. I am into minimalism, because I believe in
it passionately as the gateway to sharing, part of my spiritual discipline,
very freeing – and because I don’t like housework and ‘stuff’ does my head in.
The Badger is different. He is willing to live as simply as our situation
requires of him, is willing to share all he has with as many people as it will
stretch round, but has no special feeling for minimalism as a guiding star. In
fact he rather likes collections – his collection of books, his collection of
CDs, his collection of elephants being only examples.
So this is how we live.
On the way up the the
narrow winding stairway leading to our attic you come to the turn, where we
have what we call our ‘archive’ (because that’s what it is). All the files
relating to church and home records are there.
Moving on, alongside
the stairway is a narrow shelf. The Badger has fixed a mirror to the wall
there, which acts as my dressing table. You can just see the corner of our laundry bag; it hangs in the stairwell on a hook fixed into the outside of the banister rail.
At the top of the
stairs is a landing, an ante-room to our main room. That’s where we sleep.
In our main room we
have a sitting area with the shelves for the Badger's books.
Opposite is the wardrobe
the Badger built for me where I keep my clothes, and his study corner.
The rafters are handy
for drying towels.
The Badger and I both
work from home, and he’s a publisher, so at any given time he has a stack of
papers by his desk. A printer is vital to what we do. So is a waste paper bin. The step stool is essential for opening the windows.
I have books too. The
bottom shelf has mine, and along the top are the papers for my mother’s care
and my Methodist Circuit resources.
I have a study corner
of my own.
We also have some
kitchen stuff in a box room improvised into a kitchen. We don’t need much – a
fridge, a mini-cooker, a table and chairs, some storage shelves (the Badger made them). There’s no
sink, but that’s no big deal. We get water from the bathroom and wash up on the
So this is not Konmari
territory, it’s a bit sloppier than that, but it is living simply, with all the
advantages of minimal housework, space-sharing, frugality and earth-friendliness.
And my minimalism nests like a Russian doll inside the Badger’s simplicity. If
we both had the number of belongings he has, we wouldn’t fit in our space. He’s
very fair minded and kind, so if I had more things he’d trim his possessions to
accommodate them; but as I haven’t, he’s glad to keep his bits and pieces
because he likes them. Some of our things are mine, though; the round table and the big rug, the coverlet and the little table at the foot of our bed. I do have some stuff, and he doesn't have much. And the Badger is buying me a comfy blue armchair to sit in, but we haven't got it yet. I generally like to get second hand or homemade things, but the armchair is coming from Ikea, because our staircase is too small to get an already-made chair up.
Mindset is part of all this.
If we had to move into somewhere smaller still, we know how to do it. He’d
transition entirely from books to Kindle, from CDs to i-Tunes, say a sad
goodbye to his elephants and small store of memorabilia. I’d pare down my
wardrobe a little more. But meanwhile, as we have thought long and hard about
what we own, and like our place to look like a home not a prison cell, this is
how we do things. If these photos come up big for you (I don't know if they do), you'll see that what the Badger has there on that unit where he keeps his socks and undies is a bottle of whisky and a bottle of cough medicine. Not ideal, I know . . .
were four minimalists, all good friends, who liked to meet up so they could
encourage one another in the way of simplicity.
all valued hospitality as beautiful and precious, so they took it in turns to
meet in each other’s homes.
first minimalist lived in the house where he was born. He had inherited it from
his parents. Nothing in it had been updated since the 1940s, and he loved it
just the way it was. Though the furniture and fittings had grown old and
shabby, he kept everything beautifully clean. He had quite a bit of memorabilia
– photos of his parents’ wedding and his childhood years, a rack of pipes his
father used to smoke, the piano his mother loved to play, and the tea set that
had been her pride and joy. He was satisfied with everything he had, and never
bought anything new. When his friends came round, he would make tea in a
teapot, boiling the water in the battered stovetop kettle on the old gas stove,
and using loose tea leaves. He regarded teabags as somewhat wasteful and unnecessary.
Afterwards he tipped the dregs onto the rosebed in the garden.
second minimalist lived in a small rented flat above a shop. He had no car, so
it was important to him to stay near the town centre where he could easily
access all amenities on foot. Home ownership contravened his principles. He
wanted to pass through life as untrammelled by possessions as possible. The
flat came furnished with a bed and wardrobe, kitchen appliances, and a three
piece suite and coffee table. Not all of it was to his taste, but he reminded
himself to be satisfied with whatever had been provided. When his friends came
round, he put £1 in the meter and boiled water in an electric kettle and made
tea in cheery mugs he’d bought from the charity shop – a teabag in each mug,
milk poured as it came from the carton in the fridge. He would never have used
loose tea, because he would not have liked the unnecessary clutter and expense
of a teapot and teastrainer. He kept the teabags to re-use later, and composted
them in the wormery he kept under the coffee table.
third minimalist lived in an off-grid cob house in the middle of a field out in
the country. He had made all his own furniture, upcycling old floorboards and
scaffold boards, broken chairs and surplus drawers. When his turn came to offer
hospitality, he hitched the pony up to the lovingly restored governess cart and
went round to collect his friends. They would arrive to find the kettle singing on the
home-made rocket stove, and sit in his cosy living room while he gathered herbs
from the garden to brew tea in a large and beautiful ceramic teapot made by the
potter who lived next door. Afterwards he poured off the dregs as plant feed
onto his indoor tomatoes before tossing the leaves onto his permaculture system
veggie beds. He took his friends home well before dark, as a pony and trap can
be vulnerable on the roads after dusk, even with a solar lantern hung fore and
fourth minimalist lived in a shed in his aunt’s garden. He served his friends
water from the outside tap, in well-washed yoghourt pots. They sat on
the floor except the one with arthritic knees, for whom they dragged
in a large log for an improvised seat, with the addition of a folded sweater as a cushion.
Here they chatted until twilight, when they all went their separate ways because their host needed to go
learned a great deal from each other, and their mutual friendship greatly
enriched their lives. What, after all, would we be without the people we
respect, whose values we admire, and whose company is dear to us?