6.28.2012

Thinking About 7: Part 1

I read 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker with a specific purpose in mind: previewing it as a potential title for Moms in Faith, a group I coordinate at church. I'm reading a number of great and not-so-great books this summer for this purpose. Unsurprisingly, because this is a group of my peers and these books are largely written for our shared demographic, I have both professional and personal interest in the books. This one hit me especially hard. I don't know if we'll use the book yet - it's making the rounds through the Steering Team folks who are collectively deciding what we should do together - but I'm going to vote yes.

The premise of the book, if you're unfamiliar, is this: Hatmaker selects seven areas of life in which she identifies excess - clothes, shopping, waste, food, possessions, media, and stress - and over the course of seven months, engages in a related fast. For one month at a time she wears only seven articles of clothing, eats only seven foods, spends money at only seven businesses, and so on. The book records the challenges and joys of the experience, the lessons she learns along the way, and her reflections about why one would do this. Hatmaker is passionate about Jesus and justice. She addresses the biblical foundations of social and environmental justice in such a powerful, contagious way that could totally hook people who normally glaze over when someone starts talking about such issues.

I was both confronted and entertained by the book, and for the most part I liked it very much. Hatmaker delivers scathing critiques of the American Dream and the ways the American church has allowed it to supersede Christian values.She can be really, really funny, and clearly uses humor to disarm readers who might otherwise be intimidated by or defensive about the cultural buttons she's pushing. I enjoyed most but not all of her humor, as a very few times her breezy tone veered into the category of "off-putting."

For Hatmaker, the entire project goes back to being faithful. I wish I could quote her but since I passed the book along, I'll paraphrase. She wants to clean house, so to speak, to make more room for God. In a very meaningful way, this "mutiny against excess" is simply traditional spiritual practice of fasting, re-imagined for the contemporary affluent suburban American context. As it is written in the book of Isaiah, "Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family?" Hatmaker restores justice to the spiritual practice, albeit imperfectly. Some of the fasts were more spiritually edifying than practically helpful; for instance, wearing seven articles of clothing meant using more water to launder them - not super environmentally sound.

Additionally, while there was some development of the local and organic food issue (including a narrative venn diagram of sorts about how you really can't find food that is local, organic, and cheap), the seven foods Hatmaker ate for a month weren't especially "green", and at one point she sends back a spinach salad at a restaurant because it had dressing on it, allowing Hatmaker to "keep the fast" but generating unnecessary waste and inconvenience for the waitstaff. Minor, perhaps. But the blind spot was present a number of places, including the glaring lack of any kind political engagement. Hatmaker has a huge heart for the poor; she's willing to literally shuck the designer cowboy boots from her feet on their behalf. Yet there is literally not a word about the political advocacy needed to enact systematic change.

That said, there are so many good words about the spiritual awakening needed to break our addiction to consumerist culture that the strengths of this book far outweigh its weaknesses.

This is just a general review. Next up, I'll write about some of the ways this book is influencing me personally. 

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