I recently heard the word “Christians” used to describe people who vote Republican, think gays and lesbians are sinners, and believe that faith brings wealth.
But there are many of us who call ourselves Christians and have completely different beliefs. We believe that excessive consumption can distract us from what’s truly meaningful in life, that all people have the light of God in them, and that community and integrity are more valuable that money. These beliefs are closer to the actual teachings of that man who lived in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.
Pope Francis, who will visit the U.S. later this month, has urged a conversion of our hearts, minds and lifestyles to avoid climate disaster brought about by consumption and industrialization. And he sees this conversion not in terms of sacrifice but of fulfillment.
“A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment,” Francis wrote. “To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfillment.”
As a boy, I spent nine years at a school affiliated with the Episcopal Church, and spent two summers volunteering in a low-income area of the city I grew up in. As a young man, I was influenced by “Living More With Less,” a book arising out of the Mennonite tradition. Today, I attend three churches that profess a progressive form of Protestant Christianity.
Why do I bother? Don’t I know that in America today right-wing evangelism, atheism and “spiritual but not religious” are more popular? I go to church to experience the community of like-minded folks. I go to be in touch with the past, both my own youth and with centuries of Christian tradition. And I go to remind myself of the kind of person I want to be.
In the gospels, Jesus talks about wealth frequently. There’s “do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” and “It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” There are admonitions about trying to serve both God and money. There’s “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?”
Although most people would say that they value closeness to family and friends more than what society defines as success, their actions often say something different. But for many of us, simple living and faith come together in service to others and promotion of a more even distribution of wealth.
We recognize that we are privileged to uphold voluntary simplicity as a virtue at a time when for many people it is involuntary. But we feel more in communion with the less fortunate around the world by living in a small house with a modest income.
We have on our refrigerator this quote from William Ellery Channing, the 19th century Unitarian preacher from New England: “To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury; and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable; and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasion; hurry never…to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common; this is to be my symphony.”
For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick overview of 135 past posts in 13 categories, including simple living, frugality, living without, cooking, gardening and climate change.