On Simplicity

Some time ago there was an ad on television about stuff. People were shown frustrated because they had too much stuff. They went out and bought some plastic containers and created more room for more stuff!

Most religions point to the challenges of stuff. Jesus for example had strong things to say to wealthy people, comments that did not exactly make him popular. Yet some of the people that helped him were wealthy.

Similarly, there are other spiritual leaders such as Buddha and St. Francis of Assissi who recognized the dangers of welath and stuff and chose instead a more simple path.

What is the problem with wealth? First of all, money can become an idol, a power we turn to for comfort. Secondly, with wealth comes power. Indeed people of welath are often tempted to view themselves as entitled. Finally, making money can become addictive to the point that, just as with drugs and alcohol, there is never enough.

Now before I mislead you, I have to admit that I like some stuff. I like my computur. I like having a car that is only 4 years old instead of the typical 15 years old car I usually drive. I like having a good meal or even just buying a good hotdog at a ballgame. Yet when I hear the words of Jesus, cautioning me about wealth, pointing out to me that people of wealth have as much trouble getting into heaven as “a camel through the eye of a needle”, I get uneasy. Not too promising!

Clearly, if I want to grow spiritually, I have to face the allure of wealth and stuff. One possible guideline can be to try to live from my needs and not my wants. I clearly need much less than I want. Living off of needs is a key to living simply.

Unlike St. Francis, I know I will never give away everything I have and trust completely in God. Yet I remember with some longing when my wife and I were first married living in student housing at Indiana University. We paid $90 a month for our efficiency apartment. We had no car. We lived very simply. Yes, the apartmnent was right next to the laundry and yes the building had lots of cockroaches. But there is something about that life that was good. We lived simply.

I don’t believe we are supposed to walk around feeling guilt. Yet the message is there. Be careful about stuff. It can become a golden calf.

REFLECTION: How do you deal spiritually with the challenges of wealth? What are your attitudes about stuff?