Donna Schaper is a minister of the United Church of Christ and senior pastor of Judson Memorial Church in New York City. She has written many books including Sacred Speech and Sabbath Sense and contributed essays and articles to The Other Side, Zion's Herald, Christian Century, Mother Jones and The Nation. In this book (we love the lilting title), she explores the challenges of living a full and rich life while also expending time and energy on social justice issues and causes. Her comments are directed at those of us who have serious commitments to ministry that have taken us into dangerous burn-out ground. Schaper believes that it is possible to pull back, reframe our commitments, and simplify our lives. The author knows this turf intimately:
"I had to face my overdoneness. I had been baked too long in my legitimate activist hopes and lost the sense of balance and humor that were my only way of negotiating my work/family conflict. Where had it gone? It had gone to overwork, conceit, indispensability, and other usual traits of ineffective activists. When things come to be 'all up to us,' an insidious dependency has tied us up in knots. We are prisoners, not the servants, of our activism."
Do you feel exhausted all of the time? Do your embers seem to be going out? Are you savaged each time you read the latest reports on CommonDreams.org? If you have answered "yes" to all of the above, Schaper has some good medicine to take. She begins with salutary advice:
"We don't so much reduce our activist expectations as 'right-size' them.
"There is no need to throw away our passion for justice and our battle to make a difference in the world. But we can tend our inner fires so that we have the wherewithal to keep moving ahead with zeal and humility."
Schaper continues: "You will recall that in the biblical story of the widow and her mite, when the widow makes her offering in the Temple Jesus praises her small gift over the large gifts that wealthier people give. He particularly praises her humility over their self-aggrandizement. This is what the Japanese call kazen, the importance of small things. I know I can't do enough. I can do hardly anything at all. I begin with an appreciation of my size."
In the chapters that follow, she probes the small stuff which makes all the difference in living well by doing good, such as simplifying money (commentary on the meaning of charity and the importance of whole-cost accounting), control (tools of calm, humor, and leaving it alone), domesticity (maintaining an orderly and nurturing home), children (stop trying to be the perfect parent), romance (suggestions for the eroticization of everyday life), and joy (seeing and experiencing it as a lifeline to true contentment).
Schaper makes it clear that "simplifiers keep an inner fire lit while avoiding burnout in the larger world." That is definitely the way to go and by the end of this lively and creative book, we are ready to join the author's exuberant toast to life:
"Living well and doing good is a matter of becoming 'salubrious.' This is my new favorite word I like its ebullience. To be salubrious is to be so healthy that we overflow in service, so well that we overflow in wellness and assist the world around us in being well. 'Salut!' is the toast many use over a glass of wine. It means, 'To your health!' Salubrious means to your health and the health of us all."