A Path Towards Urban Renewal: Simplicity

Pope Innocent III (1161-1216) is usually known for being one of the most powerful and influential Pope’s in Catholic church history, known for promoting and organizing crusades against Muslim rulers in Spain and in the Holy Land, and against heretics in southern France. This is not a great feat to be known for, but something about this Pope goes mostly unspoken of, is that he once had a vision.

During a meeting Pope Innocent III had with John Bernadone, he recounted this vision where the Lateran basilica (a basilica dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist) was almost ready to fall down. It is then that he saw this little poor man, small and scorned, who was holding up the church with his own back bent underneath it, so that it would not fall. “I’m sure,” said Pope Innocent III, “he is the one who will hold up Christ’s Church by what he does and what he teaches.”

This little man, dressed in rags, who lived a simple life, was the model of reform Christ had for His church in the 13th century, who was also known as St. Francis of Assisi. This simple man who lived a very simple and unassuming life style, established the Order of Friar’s Minor, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the 3rd Order of Saint Francis for men and women who weren’t able to live lives of being itinerant preachers, which was later followed by the Poor Clares. All of these orders serve Christ’s body in simple ways, devoting their lives to serving the poor, the sick, and the dying.

Now fast forward with me over 700 years, and meet a women named Agnes Bojaxhiu, who joined a Catholic order for women that was birthed because of the simple work St. Francis committed himself to. In 1928 Agnes left her home at the age of 18, and joined the Sisters of Loreto, never again to see her mother or sisters.

Agnes was a teacher, and a good one at that, but she became more and more disturbed by the poverty that surrounded her in new home town. When a famine came to her city, death and misery ensued, and violence broke out between Hindu’s and Muslim’s, leaving her city destitute, along with the people who lived there. This was the beginning of her next “calling within a call” to live simply, care for the sick, feed the poor, and befriend the dying as they await their last breath. All this was done in the name of Christ.

Years later, and throughout more than 120 countries, her work is living and active, and lives beyond her life. Agnes is also known as Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, and leaves a legacy of simplicity, with a passion to be Christ to the vulnerable, the sick, and the marginalized. Mother Teresa inspires us all to find a way to translate our spiritual beliefs into action in the world. How has one woman accomplished so much?

The Christian answer is “the power of God,” of course, but God’s power allowed this woman to live a simple, unassuming life, stripped of ego and desire for worldly gain, with a posture of humility and listening as she serve the poor, the sick, and the dying.

Simplicity. Through a very brief observation of two very popular Catholic saints whose legacy’s go far beyond their lives lived on earth, we learn that simplicity of life is a powerful tool in the hand of God to bring about great change in any generation. Names of men and women who had great power but used it for sordid gain, are men and women who you and I have likely never heard of. But saints who have lived simple lives, serving others and caring not about material gain, are known and spoken of worldwide as a model of Christ-likeness.

In this post, I am not advocating a movement towards poverty, and I know some will only see that in this post. What I am advocating is a life that is committed to living simply in the midst of some much ‘stuff’. The age of global advancement is among us with opportunities of great wealth and power, as well as the technology age that gives us access to so much information and opportunities to fill your time in front of a cyber-world-lit-screen.

Consumption is over the top in the West. The good economics of Capitalism has been exploited and used for selfish and evil purposes with seemingly no boundaries. In this unchecked system, life has become complicated and the power and wealth that was given to bless, has been turned inward. I see the simple life as a means for Christ to be truly seen and known in an increasingly complex life.

For urban renewal to be a reality in the midst of out-of-control globalization, lives of simplicity must rise up all over the world. In our cities, there must be those who commit to living simply; those who are committed to slow and patient discipleship that helps lead and develop men and women to be a holistically alternative community; those who are stepping out of the mainstream view of success, advancement, consumption, and individuality; those who take seriously Jesus’ call to follow him.

We must challenge our Western notion of what it looks like to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. To follow Jesus in a culture committed to over-consumption, individualism, financial success, and fast-paced everything, I believe it’s imperative for the simple life to be mainstream again, as people begin planting roots in particular neighborhoods, living radically different lives that are alternative to the Western story, and more in line with God’s story.

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