Where did the idea for The Year of Small Things come from?
As Sarah tells in more detail in The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us, when she and Tom transitioned from a “new monastic” community in the inner city (a Christian household that included homeless guests) to a suburban parsonage, they struggled to translate their former “radical” practices into their new not-so-radical setting.
How do you take values such as downward mobility, hospitality to the poor, and a formative, introspective spiritual life and make them work here? And yet this is where so many Christians find themselves: in very ordinary places, without the freedom or resources to take the world of injustice and poverty and racial divisions by storm. So she and Tom felt stuck.
Did I mention they have two young sons, too?
So they decided to take a year of making small changes, one per month–and eventually the idea for the book was born. Sarah quickly realized she’d need co-conspirators to pen that book and be honest about it, plus be a sane wife, mom and friend. She and Tom invited the Wasingers (with their three young daughters) to join their family in the experiment, and the result — well, that’s all in our book.
What do you find most compelling about folks like Shane Claiborne & his community The Simple Way?
They take very seriously and literally the command to love your neighbor as yourself, all while pursuing downward mobility, extreme hospitality to the stranger, and racial reconciliation. The quiet, prophetic witness that Claiborne (and his contemporaries) offers us glimpses into God’s kingdom alive through the work we’re doing. We start asking questions like “How could we be better neighbors?” “What does that look like in my city” and “How am I participating in racial reconciliation?”
In short, they’re imagination-sparkers.
Why would any Christians want to become “downwardly mobile”? Why do you feel that’s an important part of our Christian witness & mission in America today?
Downward mobility assumes some privilege, right? This isn’t something homeless people are thinking about. Pursuing a life with less is antithetical to the American dream.
If I’m focused on working harder to earn more money to live with more wealth and comfort, chances are I’m doing this at the expense of someone else. And chances are, too, that I’m removing myself from regular interactions with those on the margins.
Instead, we react to the imbalance of wealth and power by presenting an alternate narrative. We want to be with those on the margins, because that’s where Jesus’ heart is.
You talk a lot about covenant friendship and accountability. What does that look like for you & your families?
It’s a drag: Sarah’s always questioning every latte Erin orders.
Just kidding. It’s not like that at all.
Covenantal friendship means we agree to certain principles and practices which we’ll then hold each other accountable to. For instance, Wasingers are committed to paying off college loans. Tom or Sarah will ask Erin and Dave every month or two: “How much do you have left again? How much are you paying each month? Where’s that money come from?”
For you, maybe you’re struggling with keeping Sabbath (whatever that looks like for you). Your covenantal friends will ask how you’re spending your time. And you’ll answer. And they might push back or ask how they can help.
Accountability among covenantal friends is radical in our individualistic society. You wouldn’t hike Mt. Everest without someone you trusted pointing out pitfalls and offering support (unless you were crazy). Why would you assume you could become more like Jesus without some folks guiding you, gently correcting you, and celebrating with you?
How might churches and small groups use this book for discussion and growth?
Questions at the end of the chapters make great tools for reflection on their own.
The Year of Small Things makes a great church-wide or small-group series, and we’ll provide material early in 2017 to support churches and groups. Sarah and Erin’s church, Sycamore Creek in Lansing, Mich., will also provide sermon outlines and shareable graphics for churches who want to use its Year of Small Things series. Watch for material at www.yearofsmallthings.com.
If people get nothing else out of this book, what do you hope they take away?
Discernment and grace, discernment and grace.
And that bacon and the gym go hand in hand. (See chapter 11.)
What happened after the first Year of Small Things?
The Arthurs and Wasingers have just begun their third Year of Small Things. They still meet once a week for dinner (when no one is sick or on vacation). Over some uncomplicated meal the nine of them sit around the table and talk. Grown-ups talk about that month’s topic when the kids are dismissed to play. A simple dessert (apple slices, cookies, Halloween candy) brings them back together before they pray. (And at this point, at least one of them is in tears; someone else is whining “I’m still hungry!”)
But you should hear their kids sing “Go Now in Peace” as they’re putting on shoes and coats.
Our group discernment continues to propel us into our city. We engage issues that matter to us by making our relational circles wider. We befriend recently resettled refugees. Tom organized a discussion series on race at our church. I’ve (Erin) turned a fun run into a benefit for schools and resettlement agencies, and our church painted the hallways of a tired magnet school across the street from where we worship. We don’t do these things because we want the credit or because we’re lone rangers for good. Always, always joining us, leading us, and encouraging us are our church community and our covenantal friends.
Any regrets or mistakes we can avoid in our own Year of Small Things?
Erin regrets kale. Sarah regrets not buying stock in children’s ibuprofen. The children regret every night we don’t end with dessert.
But mostly, be OK with failing, stalling, or going way off track with your small things. God is at work in your life, but never on your schedule. Give yourself grace when it feels like you’re spinning your tires. He’s faithful, but it may be in some way you didn’t see coming.
How do I know what God wants me to do?
Prayer and communal discernment are great places to start. Pray for wisdom; pray with the scriptures, practicing lectio divina. Talk over your next-steps with friends. What are they saying to you that follows what you’re praying or reading in your bible?
Making friends with those outside your socio-economic-racial bubble is also vital. If you’re not sure what to do, ask them. It’s not just about finding out their needs & stepping up to help (practicing benevolence in order to feel better about yourself is a big NO); it’s about working together with them to make for change in the places God has planted you.
Search your local bookstore for more about discernment. (Erin recommends Henri Nouwen’s book, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life.)
Have another favorite resource? Leave it in the comments, below.
If I don’t have a current Small Things group in mind, how can I connect with others who are envisioning the same things I am?
Few things compare to face-to-face conversations with people you trust to hold you accountable, but we get it: #life. Because taking a Small Things challenge isn’t a solo endeavor, we encourage you to keep looking. Here are some ideas: that high school friend who would be really into this; the couple from church who have been posting on Facebook about going debt-free; the visionary college student who’s so tied down with debt they can’t march on Washington, even if they wanted to. The Peace Corps volunteer or missionary who’s just arriving home tired or burned out. Skype makes geography no big deal.
If no one’s coming to mind, consider connecting with someone from The Year of Small Things Facebook group, or hosting a Meetup.com get-together.
Any other ideas? Post them in our Facebook group to continue the conversation!