The Shoestring Girl Book Book Review

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Earlier this year Annie Jean Brewer released an updated and greatly expanded edition of The Shoestring Girl: How I Live on Practically Nothing and You Can Too. The basic theme of the book in her own words is “You can do almost anything when you need practically nothing.” While Annie warns that she may come off as preachy at times, in my opinion the book comes off as very gentle and informative. The only parts of the book that I could remotely see as being preachy, are the sections where she talks about ways to help protect yourself against setbacks and less than honest businesses. Her emphasis is to focus upon the suggestions that sound helpful and disregard the ones that you do not like. Annie does a wonderful job balancing a positive outlook with the harsh economic reality for way too many people. She starts out with a remainder that you are richer than you realize, and stresses the importance of focusing upon what we have and not what we do not have. The final chapter is “The In End” which concludes with the importance of focusing upon the things that are the most important. In the middle is over 300 pages of resource on almost any topic you can think of ranging from housing, transportation, cheap and simple recipes, household cleaning, personal care products, clothing, computers, entertainment and even “bad habits”. Annie writes in a very straightforward and at times entertaining manner. Her stories are wonderful and make you feel like the book is more about her sharing what she does and not telling you what to do.
Finally another off-label use of the book that I would like to suggest is a way to help understand the reality for a lot of people in the country. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a well off family in the suburbs and Annie’s writing has been a major eye opener to me. The chapter on “How to live in the hood” was especially an eye opener to me. So if you do not think you need her advice on how to live on less, then there is a good chance that you may need a window into the reality of her world. Jesus commands us to look after the poor among us with love and compassion. Yet all too we fail to understand and wrongly assume that the poor are poor because they are lazy. Thus it is important for us to understand the reality of those less fortunate as understanding is the first step towards compassion. The one caveat that I have about the book is that you may want to consider skipping the chapter on raising animals for food. While the chapter is very informative it may contain a bit too much information for those of us that will never put it to use. Unless of course you are looking for inspiration to consider going vegan.
For full disclosure I can rightly be accused of bias in this review. Annie is a friend of mine and without her encouragement this site would not exist. This is also a book that I helped write. I was blessed with the opportunity to assist by helping to review the working draft in real-time. While I was given a free PDF copy of the final book from Annie, I choose to also buy a copy of the ebook. So yes the book is really that good. This post contains affiliate links to help cover the cost of running the site.

What Is In Your Stack?

A stack is a term commonly used among computer scientists to describe the collection of tools and technologies that one uses. Stacks, by their very nature stacks are a mix of personal preferences and the core essentials. A famous example of an unusual stack is George R. R. Martin’s writing computer for the Game of Thrones novels. His writing computer is an ancient DOS computer from the 1980s that runs Word Star. While most people may look at this as outdated, he is more comfortable using Word Star for its simplicity. While it is not his primary intention, George R. R. Martin works on an air gaped computer system. His writing stack is not Internet comparable which means he is immune to modern computer viruses and hackers. The DOS machine also protects his attention as he is able to write on a computer without the distractions that come with an Internet connection.

Computer programmers and writers have custom designed stacks for their needs. So what is preventing us from having a custom designed spiritual stack? After all it is impossible for technology not to interact with our spirituality. Sure some people may use old technology but they still use technology. If we own or even use a Bible, we are making use of some type of technology. This holds not only for electronic Bibles and audio Bibles but also paper Bibles. Even a series of clay tablets written with a stick would be making use of the technology of writing.

So I ask you: what is in your spiritual stack? What technologies do you use in  your spiritual life? I assume you are using a Bible of some shape or form. This may be supplemented by another book be it a daily devotional booklet, hymnal or formal prayer-book. You may use a calendar, planner or to-do list to help keep yourself focused. There are also various newsletters you can sign up and either get them in your postal mailbox or your email inbox. You may also make use of some type of inspirational artwork or other materials. This may take the form of religious Icons, posters, or desktop wallpaper. You may have meaningful Bible verses cross-stitched on a pillow, a wooden plaque or post-it notes. Who knows you may have taken Deuteronomy literally and written the out on your door frames and fence posts. We are surrounded with ways that we can make use of technology to benefit ourselves spiritually. Yet all too often we get hung up on the negative that we lose sight of the positive. So please take the time to reflect upon the ways that technology can and has already blessed your spiritual life.

A Mixed Blessing

“The Internet is like alcohol. It accentuates what you would do anyway. If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone. If you want to connect, it makes it easier to connect.” ~ Esther Dyson

When it comes to the role that material objects in our lives, computers are one of the most complicated. While a computer is a physical object, it is primarily a gateway into the more abstract digital world. So when it comes to a more focused and simple life, computers can be either a blessing and or a curse. It all comes down to how one interacts with computers. More likely than not computers are a mixed blessing in your life that at times both helps and hinders you.

At their best computers are powerful tools that make our lives easier. When used mindfully computers can greatly improve our lives for the better. The modern minimalist movement was only made possible by laptop computers and smartphones. Think about all the devices that a laptop computer and smartphone can replace … alarm clock, bookcase, camera, CD player, DVD player, filing cabinet (via computer scanner) GPS, library card, television and video camera. This alone allows one to not only save space but also money thanks to the virtue of the multipurpose nature of computers. Computers also allow us to streamline our workflow to get more done in record time. Not to mention how much information computers can store which rivals even the most advanced paper filing system. Digital file storage is also easy to backup which greatly lower the risk of losing things. Of course, this is not to say that computers are not double edged. If one is not organized in their file storage structure computers can enable a new level of disorder. Information is only useful if it can be found in a timely manner when needed. Digital clutter and disorder can multiply much faster than physical clutter in our lives. Not to mention computers can also make it possible to lose things faster than ever before if one neglects to keep proper backups. Finally, computers can only help one be more productive when they are used mindfully. Digital distractions unfortunate allow us to take procrastination to a new level.

As a society, we have reached the point that it is unrealistic to avoid computers due to their potential pitfalls. Thus as Christians, our spiritual lives need to be inclusive of computers. Anything that plays a large role in our lives has the potential to help or hinder us spiritually. Ideally, our spiritual approach to computers should be positive and focus on the strengths. So what are some ways that computers can support your spiritual life?

Romantic Anxious Bench

It is not uncommon for people to view single friends as a problem that needs to be fixed. The feeling that singleness needs to be fixed is especially common around Valentines Day. These attempts to help set up people who they see as having potential with each other are well-meaning. The debate over how helpful this is another matter that I am not going to address here. What I am is that this efforts to get new people interacting with each other. This of course results in a lot of first impressions being made.

First impressions leave a lasting impact on one’s views of others. This is especially the case when we are told something about the person before we meet them. Given that what we know in advance will determine how we approach the other person. In the same way, first impressions also play an important role in how we relate to God. In that, the initial way that somebody introduces us to God has a profound and lasting effect on our view of God. So this got me thinking about how obvious the messed up nature of the anxious bench is in this context. The Bible has many different images used to describe God, including a king, judge, parent, and spouse. This is because different people and cultures find some images more helpful than others. The image of God as a lover is currently one of the more helpful Biblical images in our culture.

So let us consider a single man who a friend is trying to help him find a meaningful relationship. The friend starts to tell him about a certain wonderful local woman as an ideal match. He goes on to tell his friend not only how beautiful she is but also how she is a very loving person that is full of compassion. On top of that, she is playful and very fun to be around which makes her the most desirable available woman in town. So far everything sounds great, right? He then mentioned that there is just one little thing that his friend should know about. She has a short violent temper when it comes to rejection or her partner looking at other women. He goes on to caution his friend that it is very important not to ever consider breaking up with her. In fact simply passing over her now for another woman would be just as bad as she already knows that you are single. In the past, she has described as going berserk and lashing out big time against the last guy that scorned her. People say that she kicked him hard enough to knock him to the ground. Then once he was on the ground she continued to kick and stamp on him with her heels. Yet that was only the beginning as she then hauled him off to a hidden room in her basement and chained him to a wall. Rumor is that she has a whole room filled with loser guys that she makes sure to torture every night. Yet the friend reassured that it is nothing that he should be concerned about. As she is such a wonderful woman and her love is so great that it is unlike anything else that a man can experience. At this point, I am sure most people would feel that crazy, lunatic and or psychopath would be a more accurate description of her. In fact, they would likely question their friend’s sanity. As what type of person would insist that a person whose actions come off as so messed up is actually a very loving and compassionate person?

This is the reality of how the anxious bench distorts the image of God. The anxious bench twists one’s perception of God into that of a monster that demands to be viewed as loving and compassionate. This is what most evangelism efforts come off as thanks to the use of the anxious bench. So it makes perfect sense why a growing number of people do not want to have anything to do with the church. In my opinion, the biggest tragedy of American church history was the rise of the anxious bench. This is why it is essential to reevaluate how we talk about God to others. As the last thing that we want to do is to give somebody a negative first impression of God.

Possessions That Really Matter

“If your house was burning, what would you take with you? It’s a conflict between what’s practical, valuable and sentimental. What you would take reflects your interests, background and priorities. Think of it as an interview condensed into one question.” ~ Foster Huntington
 
It is amazing how much a single picture of one’s most prized material possessions can reveal about a person. The things that a person value is a very insightful window into their priorities and values. Foster Huntington created The Burning House to invite people to answer this question with a picture. The Burning House asks the question in a metaphoric sense to get people thinking about the role material possessions have in our lives. As the reality is that no material possession is worth risking one’s life for in a fire. In the moment such a question would almost seem too overwhelming on the spot when one is mentally in the flight survival mode. In which case the universal first thoughts are people and pets as nothing else matters. If that is not an issue, then a person may grab their bag, laptop, phone or wallet, but only if it is next to them on the way out.
 
With that in mind consider this similar question: Imagine you live in a small village in a tiny one or two room hut. In the middle of the night, you wake up to an anti-Christian mob going through the village. They are going from house to house and hacking all the Christians to death with machetes. You realize that your only chance to survive is to immediately flee into the night toward the forest. Praying that you can avoid detection long enough to hide and not be found. Assuming that you are dressed and that you do not own any weapons, what if anything would you grab before running out of the house?
 
I wish the above situation was purely hypothetical for the sake of an argument but it is not. It comes from an article about modern persecution of Christians I read years ago. A Christian woman in a third world nation really did wake up in the middle of the night to an anti-Christian mob going through her village and hacking to death all the known Christians with machetes. Without any hesitation, she grabbed her Bible and hymnal and ran off into the night. The situation leading up to her split second evacuation is clearly nothing to glorify. Although I feel what it flushed out about her values was a very beautiful thing. The woman’s actions demonstrated that she knew the true value of the material things in her house in terms of her relationship with God. Strictly speaking there is nothing remarkable about a Bible and a hymnal in how they are both physical books made out of paper. Bibles and hymnals are only significant when they are used as tools.
 
In this case it demonstrated the woman’s value in being able to read God’s Word and worship God with hymns. So she valued these two books as the most important items in her house to grab on her way out. I realize that some critics will try to downplay this given her context. Sure Bible are a lot more rare in areas of persecution where they are illegal to own. So how much do you value your Bible? Or I should say Bibles given that you likely have several physical Bibles and eBibles on your computer and or phone. If you are like most American Christians you likely own more copies of the Bible than the times you have read through the entire Bible. Can you honestly say that your most treasured material possessions are a Bible and a hymnal or prayer book?

Sweeter Than Chocolate Book Review

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“Do you enjoy God’s Word more than television? More than the Internet? More than your phone? If you find yourself turning off the television, unplugging from the Internet, or ignoring your phone to study the Bible, you have developed a healthy addiction. That’s a true expression of how much you value God’s Word.” ~ Christy Bower
Sweeter Than Chocolate is a basic book that has two main goals. First to inspire you to truly enjoy the Bible by approaching it with the right mindset. Second to provide a basic overview of the different ways of taking in the Bible and various study aids that may be helpful. The book is inspired by the image in Psalm 119 which describes the Word of God as tasting sweeter than honey. Christy points out that in the modern world chocolate has become to us what honey was in the ancient world. Today when one craves something sweet to enjoy, it is chocolate, not honey that we seek out. Thus to put Psalm 119 in a modern context, the Bible should be enjoyable or something is wrong. More times than not the problem is not approaching the Bible in a way that leads to understanding. The book then goes to provide an overview of the various methods to get more out of the Bible. This includes various approaches to reading and reflecting upon the Bible in a way that is meaningful to who you. Christy also provides an overview of the numerous types of Bible study resources that can help increase one’s understanding and enjoyment of the Bible.
What I like most about Sweeter Than Chocolate is Christy’s very positive writing style. Her book is completely free of any fear and guilt manipulation to make people feel bad if they do not read the Bible. Instead, Christy offers gentle encouragement and helpful suggestions to take into consideration with an overall emphasis on how reading the Bible should be enjoyable. She even goes to the point of urging the reader not to read the Bible when they do not feel like it. The logic behind this suggestion is that forcing oneself to read the Bible only reinforces the negative view that it is a chore. As compared to enjoying the Bible which will naturally lead to us wanting to spend more time in Bible reading. I see Sweeter Than Chocolate as being the especially helpful to teenagers, young adults and people who are new to the Christian faith. Although any Christian can be inspired by her message of how the Bible should be enjoyable in the same way that eating chocolate is enjoyable.
Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book by Christy Bower in exchange for agreeing to write an honest review. I have not been paid or pressured to write a positive review by Christy. The content of this review is completely my own opinion. This post contains affiliate links to help cover the cost of running the site.

The Paper 100 Things Challenge

The 100 Things Challenge has both clear virtues and clear pitfalls. The main virtue of the 100 Things Challenge is that it forces one to reflect upon what is important. Given that it is only after one is in touch with what they value that one is able to think about what is most worth keeping. Once one knows what is most worth keeping, it is a much easier to figure out what to discard. Another advantage is that the challenge sets limits that force one to remain mindful. The other virtue of the 100 Things Challenge is that it sets limits. The limits force one to evaluate everything that is coming into and out of their life. The 100 Thing Challenge inventory main advantage is forcing one to remain mindful of the role of material things in their life.
 
The main pitfall of the 100 Things Challenge is that it tends to be wasteful of money and resources. Given that the 100 Things Challenge focuses upon getting rid of things for the sake of doing so. I agree with getting rid of things that one does no reasonably see oneself using again. And all the more so if one can sell it or pass it on to somebody that can make use of it. But what about the extra things that one will reasonable need in the future? Let us consider clothing that still fits and looks good on you? The fact that one has too much good clothing is merely a side effect of the rate of new clothing coming in at a rate faster than one’s existing clothing is wearing out. Good stewardship and common sense would say that a better solution is to stop buying new clothing until there is a real need and then only buy what one needs to make it through a typical wash cycle. Thus, decluttering should ideally be accomplished through everyday wear and tear.
 
It is with this concept of more responsible decluttering in mind that I suggest one approach the 100 Things Challenge in the style of paper trading. Paper trading is normally used within the context of a person simulating stock market trading without putting any money at risk. The Paper 100 Things Challenge is a middle of the road alternative that is ideal for people who are attracted to the idea of the 100 Things Challenge but feel it is too extreme to actually do for real. Keep in mind that 100 is just an arbitrary number which could just as easily be 150 which is Dunbar’s number. I feel that 150 would be a better starting point as it is both more practical and meaningful. As I think it is a given that everybody has a personal relationship with their material possessions even if they do not want to admit it.
 
The Paper 100 Things Challenge is easy to complete. Simply take a piece of paper and number it from 1 to 100 (or 150) and list out the things that are the most important to you that would make the cut if you were to actually take the 100 Things Challenge. If the space on the list seems a bit short for you, make one of your items a wardrobe sublist of 100/150 articles of clothing. Also keep in mind that you do not have to own everything on the list as this is more of an ideal list of minimalist personal possessions. Once you are finished with your Paper 100 Things Challenge list you are now armed with a valuable tool. The most important part of the Paper 100 Things Challenge is taking the time to create your list of items which takes you through the heart of the 100 Things Challenge. At its core, the 100 Things Challenge is an exercise in mindfulness of one’s personal possessions. Therefore simply doing the work of preparing a list of what is most important to you will make it easier to let go of items that were not valuable enough to make the list. The list can also help prevent impulse buys on unimportant things that are not in line with your values. Finally, if you go through the work of creating a Paper 100 Things Challenge list, I would recommend taking the time to review and possibly update.
 
I realize some people may think this is too much of a cop-out when it comes to the 100 Things Challenge or desires to take it to the next level. To take it up a notch, try packing away or at least boxing up anything that does not make the list to see if you can live with it on a daily basis. That way you can both reap the benefits of the experience of a radically simplified life and not have to worry about getting rid of things that you will later need to replace. In time through normal wear and tear you might find yourself living a real 100 Things Challenge lifestyle. Or you might realize that in reality a 150 to 333+ things lifestyle better fits your needs and values. The truth about minimalism is that living with less can help streamline your life to free up more time and energy for what matters. Above all remain mindful of what you really need as minimalism is about living with the right amount for your lifestyle. Finally, if you do not see the point or feel that the Paper 100 Things Challenge takes up too much time, then please disregard my suggestion.