Tag Archives: Shawn Smucker

The Baby Boomer’s Inadequate Gift to Us: Guest Post by Shawn Smucker

You can read my intro/interview with Shawn from Tuesday here




The Baby Boomers’ Inadequate Gift to Us–guest post by Shawn Smucker




“We expected something,

Something better than before.

We expected something more.”


The National


* * * * *


We watched the sun set, all of us sitting there by the fire pit but it was warm so we didn’t light the fire. Deer wandered through the waist-high grass at the edge of the woods, and as darkness seeped up from the shadows and spread towards the sky, the lightning bugs began to blink.


My daughter, five years old and full of optimism, ran inside for a jar, then dashed back and forth through the night. She saw a light and ran towards it, but by the time she arrived, it was dark. Another light, another mad dash. Another light, another flurry of activity.


Darkness and empty jars.


* * * * *


“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”


Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club


* * * * *


One can easily spend a lifetime chasing these fading dreams. I see it now all around me, as successful baby boomers stand in their quiet four-bedroom houses, their children gone, their retirements secure or completely lost, their businesses booming or folding. I see them as they look around, emptiness in their eyes and golf clubs in their hands.


They move some money around and spend some of the principal on a house where they can get away while all around them the world is crumbling. The poor are getting poorer and there are more slaves than at any point in the history of this planet. But they made a large contribution to their church’s building fund so they sit quietly in their seats on Sunday mornings and manage to bear the service by thinking of the fun they’ll have on their upcoming family vacation.


They bought into the lie that happiness awaits if you plan a responsible life, work hard, save and make your decisions based on financial data points. This formula will usher you to the grand old age of 65 where you will find happiness, wealth and the opportunity to pass this life strategy down to the next generation.


But so much of it is darkness and empty jars. Our generation has watched the generation before us arrive at retirement with good credit scores, a nice house, and a growing sense that they somehow missed out on a life worth living.


* * * * *


“… hope frees us from the need to predict the future and allows us to live in the present, with the deep trust that God will never leave us alone but will fulfill the deepest desires of our heart…”


Henri Nouwen, Here and Now


* * * * *


At the root of our culture’s chronic unhappiness is an inability, or sometimes flat-out refusal, to live in The Now.  We dull our not inconsequential pain with hours of television, prescription or recreational drugs and staying very, very busy. We use every tool at our disposal to distract us from today, to numb the pain we feel, and to take the focus off of our unhappy lives.


We work hard to avoid The Now because it is a difficult place to exist. It requires intentionality. It requires things like forgiveness – otherwise the past will not remove its claws. It requires a tenacious hope – otherwise the specter of an unknown future paralyzes us.


Enter Materialism, the great idol of our time. Materialism gives us something to look forward to: the next big acquisition, the next big purchase, the next notch in our social standing. Materialism offers the great escape from this present moment of boredom or unhappiness. And because we sacrifice our time at the foot of its golden altar, we hold tightly to the “gifts” it gives us in return.


Each present second ticks by, quickly becoming a past we’d rather forget.


* * * * *


My whole life I have been surrounded by well-meaning encouragement to go ‘higher up,’ and the most-used argument was : ‘You can do so much good there, for so many people.’ But these voices calling me to upward mobility are completely absent from the Gospel.


Henri Nouwen, Here and Now


* * * * *


To me, the essence of Downward Mobility is best characterized by living in the present moment. Living in The Now. When I live a life of Downward Mobility I become so deeply entrenched in today and in what Christ is calling me to do, now, that the future and past no longer control me.


Living in the The Now allows me to enjoy what I have without always striving for what I want to get tomorrow or next month or next year. My obsession with material things evaporates when I begin to explore how I can contribute to the Kingdom of Heaven today, with what I have now.


In a word, Downward Mobility is abiding.


* * * * *


Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”

* * * * *


Shawn is the author of “Building a Life Out of Words,” the story of how he lost his business, his house and his community, then found happiness making a living as a writer. He lives deep in the woods of southern Lancaster County, PA, with his wife and four children. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


For more information on the Downward Mobility series, click here. For all posts, click here

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Runaway Life: An Interview with Shawn Smucker



I met Shawn Smucker through a site we both write for called A Deeper Church. He is an excellent, prolific writer with a great head on his shoulders–and an obvious quest for adventure. When I heard bits and pieces about the epic road trip he went on with his family, I was hooked (when I was 8, my family sold everything and traveled the world in a motor home as well–and look, Shawn, I turned out excellent!). Shawn wrote a great piece that will be going up on Thursday, but I thought it might be fun to ask him a few questions about his life. So here we go! 


Here’s his bio: Shawn is the author of “Building a Life Out of Words,” the story of how he lost his business, his house and his community, then found happiness making a living as a writer. He lives deep in the woods of southern Lancaster County, PA, with his wife and four children. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to check out Shawn’s books How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp and Building a Life Out of Words.


DL: Tell me about your family, and this epic journey you guys went on.


SS: First let me tell you that my wife, my four children and I have been on an exhilarating, terrifying journey over the last four years. My business crumbled, we left a community that we loved, and I began writing for a living – I wrote about this in my book “Building a Life Out of Words.” We lived in my parents’ basement more often than I would have liked, but we now live in our dream house, rent free (long story). We’ve made more money in one month than I ever thought I’d make, and we’ve gone six months without income. My sense of calling has never been clearer, and most of the time I feel like I am living a dream life. But there’s also a huge sense of the unknown, a constant cycle of being called to faith and belief and trust. Some days I look around me and wish I had a normal life: a paycheck, a mortgage and a car payment  (in order to replace our two minivans that have a combined 400,000 miles). But I know that those yearnings are for temporary things, things that represent comfort, predictability and control. So my wife and I continue making a conscious decision to pass on those things and accept the gifts we’ve been given from God, gifts we never would have received if we had lived our life under our own control.


Pretty early in on we realized that the advantages of living a counter-cultural life is that you don’t have to wait to have adventures. You don’t have to work for forty years and then live the life you always wanted to live, the life God is trying to birth in you. So, when the lease on the house we were renting ran out, we borrowed my uncle’s RV and hit the road for four months. Actually, the RV was an old bus that used to be Willie Nelson’s. I compiled my blog posts, my wife’s blog posts, and a few essays I wrote into a book about the trip and titled it “How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp.”


What I love about my family is their willingness to go on adventures, to follow God’s voice, to live a life that doesn’t make sense to most people. We home school our kids (ages 10, 8, 5 and 4) not because we want to protect them, but because it gives us the flexibility to follow. I don’t know too many women that have my wife’s willingness to live a life without the usual safety nets – she is constantly surprising me.


I grew up going to the same school for twelve years, lived in basically two houses my entire childhood, so sometimes I worry about this transient life we’re giving my children. But they surprise me with their adaptability, the way they form new friendships so quickly, the way they are always challenging me to be a better person, a more loving person. So, again, I have to trust God with their lives and believe that he can make something beautiful with the childhood they’re experiencing as a result of their parents’ choices.


DL: How did this trip make you feel about happiness/the American dream?


SS: I see a lot of my friends, the way they live these “quiet lives of desperation,” and I get pretty unsettled, angry, at the so-called “American Dream,” the way so many in our generation have swallowed the lie of materialism. It saddens me that we believe more money will make us happy, that the only way to security is through traditional employment, and how we so often refuse to live the life we’ve been called to live because we won’t give up the nice things we’ve accumulated. So much purpose and adventure dying on the vine.


DL: Did it change your definition of what a good life was?


SS: The trip, and returning from the trip to the hardest six months of my life, solidified for me that my best life is not one that I’ve controlled and planned out. Being “responsible,” as defined by our current culture, cannot be the litmus test for the major decisions I make in life. I just don’t think that the majority of what Jesus told people to do was very responsible.

“Follow me,” Jesus said. So we try to follow. We screw up all the time, of course, but we keep trying to follow.


DL: How have you interacted with people who come from a different economic situation from you?


SS: Going without income for stretches of time has helped me to identify with the poor. I’m not saying I’m poor or have ever had to live in poverty, but when you’re in a position of not having money for groceries, or you live in a one-bedroom basement, or you have bills you haven’t been able to pay for six months, it opens your eyes. But learning about poverty and learning how to love those who are poor, and love them well, has been a series of concentric circles.

First you learn how to sacrifice the stuff you want in order to help others, and you think, this is it, this is what Jesus was talking about. Then you start getting involved in the lives of the poor and you start trying to help them make positive steps – you try to rescue them from their poverty and you think, Oh, wow, actually THIS is what Jesus was talking about. I’ve got to get them out of this.
And then you get to the point where you think that nothing you are doing is making a difference in their lives, and you want to give up, but you also have this amazing realization that they don’t need your money or your rescuing – what they need is you. And it’s way harder and more painful but it’s also more loving and more rewarding. You realize that sitting on someone’s porch outside their dilapidated trailer and having a beer with them, just enjoying THAT DAY with them, that’s what Jesus would have done.
So that’s where my wife and I are at right now. But there’s a deeper circle to find and to live, I’m sure. There always is.


Thanks, Shawn! Check back on Thursday for more of his thoughts on Downward Mobility.





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