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Dedicated to Candace Bass

Coming back from France has taken some adjustments. Nothing one could call “culture shock,” but in a minimal sense it is.  In France, Jordan and I functioned for 10 months without a vehicle.  In the Mid West, this is close to impossible, but with the advantage of organized, French public transportation we abandoned the car completely.  And we loved it.  Of course there were moments we longed to hop into a car and speed off in the direction of our choosing, or wave mockingly at the people waiting for the next 20 minutes for the tram.  Instead, we lived small.  Close became a necessity and preference.  Still, it wasn’t until our return to the U.S. that we put our finger on exactly what we loved, and what was therefore tearing us apart as we started to readopt the car.  

After spending a month driving what, for many, are short distances (St. Louis to Columbia, St. Charles to St. Louis, and St. Louis to Joplin) Jordan and I felt like chained, caffeine users.  The inescapable traffic, the careless drivers, and the feeling of warping from place to place in an isolated box of metal.  As I began reading David Janzen’s The Intentional Christian Community Handbook, he describes the car as, “the great agent of identity and opportunity,” and then stating shortly after it is also responsible for shattering our lives into “distant and dissonant fragments,” removing us from space in order to save time. Thus, millions of people isolate themselves from their surroundings in order to get from here to there quicker.  They rush through the spaces around them unable to smell, feel, or speak with those around them (be real: most people drive with their windows up and if someone is trying to talk to you at a stoplight, there is already the sense of them intruding into your world of music, A/C, and desire to get somewhere fast).  Remove the car and what happens?  Suddenly you are forced to drastically decrease your sphere of travel.  You see the same face more than once.  You meet the person who lives a couple blocks away.  You become efficient in a new way that still includes planning, but more importantly, includes the community closest to you.  You have the opportunity to develop roots.  The theme of the last SMC meeting was rootedness, and that is what so many of us are lacking.  It’s not that we don’t want them, but instead of stretching down and increasing the depth of relationships that naturally occur through proximity, we force our roots to stretch outward through dozens, even hundreds of miles every week until we must admit they aren’t roots, they are surface level relationships with dozens of people who live so far away our overscheduled lives can’t adequately sustain them.  

So Jordan and I decided to use our car as little as possible.  We wanted to embrace the simplicity of the life we found in France, the limitedness and yet the freedom.  Truthfully, these were similiar aspects to life in the Lotus House, it just took us moving to another country to solidify those former yearnings.  Consequently, we invested in some nice bikes, wired a crate onto the back of our bikes (kudos Alden Bass), and insisted thenceforth to embrace Joplin in an ecologically friendly way that allowed us to remain in space.  Yes, time changed too.  But this is where simplifying and living simple shines.  We have kept up our daily 4.5 mile commute to the office and visited the farmer’s market last Saturday.  We haven’t abandoned the car for every trip (and that’s not what I’m advocating).  But not using it for_every_errand or inventing excuses to use a car feels good.  It feels like balance and wholeness.  It’s more simple.   

 A friend of mine was once described by her husband as simple.  When recounting the tale, she seemed offended to have received such a plain adjective.  She wasn’t called simple-minded or a simpleton, just simple.  Now, however, she has embraced this description in a truly beautiful form that allows others to see how attractive and fulfilling simple can be.  Saint Thérèse said that “the nearer we get to God, the simpler one becomes.”  

I will keep reducing, pruning, and resisting the temptation for more and faster, so that I can be called simple, too.  Because it is good to be called simple.

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Tutoring. A weekly event in which no one can foresee what may happen.  Every coach, I’m sure, spends a minimum 15 minutes self-absorbed in a personal pep talk.  There is the deep breathing, a must when your directions are utterly ignored by the student; the facial relaxation, as the muscles strain, resisting the desire to contort into the ferocious face of a wild beast ready to assert her alpha female position over a disrespectful and subversive munchkin; and the prayers because God alone knows what will save us from the grandiose attitudes flailing fits of tearful breakdown, and mind games the children have premeditated.

This night was different.  In contrast to the usual 3-5 pubescent females I coach, I had only one: miss Deja.  This left time for one-on-one attention and a bit of free time as she was working with her Math and Reading tutors.  The math room, our third station that evening, roomed three eager tutors.  Deja plopped down next to a mid-sized man with a puffy grey jacket and combover.  Keeping my distance from math material, I sat at an open desk.

“What’s your day job?” Came a voice from ten feet away.  I looked up from the children’s book I was reading to see the tutor’s uneven smile beaming as if he had just won the spelling bee.  His appearance each week is rather disheveled.  Today: a button missing from the center of his button-up shirt, exposing a thin streak of white undershirt, rumpled hair, and glasses slightly askew.  Still, a friendly face anticipating the answer.  

We had this conversation about three months ago, but I cannot claim innocence in the crime of conversation repetition, so I answered.
We had this conversation about three months ago, but I cannot claim innocence in the crime of conversation repetition, so I answered.
“I’m a nurse at Barnes.”
“Ya know, I had 19 credits left on my nursing degree but I had to stop because of gender discrimination,” he stopped short and then held his smile again.
“O really.”  I remembered every detail from the previous twenty minute conversation.  “Now men are almost preferred because they are the minority.”  Sustained smile.  Not even a blink.  I moved over to his desk.
“How about you?  What’s your day job”
“Well, I’m what they call semi-retired.  I work at the stadium and dome.”
“You help people find their seats?”  We were in new territory.  He leaned forward, raising a pair of bushy eyebrows.
“No, I make the sales like the nachos.  Regular nachos, nacho grande, and nacho supreme.  They are our top sellers.  You know the nacho supreme is made with pulled pork.  And then they add barbecue sauce on top, then jalapeños, and cheese.  You wouldn’t believe how many we sell.  We also sell Coke, beer, bottled water, and Cracker Jacks.”
“How about hot dogs?”
“No. They mostly get sold on the first floor and the one beneath ours.  I have to count out the big bills at specific times like the 20s, 50s, and 100s.  I make sure there is $700 ready for the start of the next game.  You have to make sure you aren’t getting a counterfeit.”  He then proceeded to tell me with all the precision of a member of the Federal Reserve, all the ways one checks for a counterfeit bill.  

Although I excused myself shortly after to take Deja to her Enrichment class, this tutor and his joyful pride settled over me.  It did not matter that by most people’s standards, the task was simple.  God has different standards.  1 Samuel 16:6 says, “Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.”  We all deserve a chance to express satisfaction in our hard work.  If you are the master of the nacho supreme, share that dignity.  Our gifts look different and instead of looking down on others as less efficient/ less important, we must celebrate with them.  But in order to celebrate, one must listen.  So spend more time lifting each other up, slowing down, and listening.  And do not forget to ask for patience.