The Power of the Simple Life

Pope Innocent III (1161-1216) is remembered for being one of the most powerful and influential Pope’s in Catholic church history, but he is also 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. Many of those names might not mean much to most of our ears, but what all these orders represented were safe havens for the poor and for those who desired to care for the poor. This was before social services was popular and goodwill was highly dependent up on the goodwill of neighbors. St Francis was a good neighbor. 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 she experienced in her new home town. When a famine came to her city, death and misery followed, 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 with simple, unassuming means, and 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.

As I remember the lives of John Bernadone and Agnes Bojaxhiu, I am left with ambiguity, and I question the world view that has been erected in Western Christendom, where the victorious and prosperous church is given more prestige than the poor and suffering church; where Christian ministry is often a movement toward relevance, popularity, social acceptance, and power; where numeric growth is more celebrated than sacrificial living and solidarity with the poor.

Yes, Christian ministry is always wrapped in good deeds and god intentions, but the glamour of ministry and the lure of success seems to get more attention than the Catholic Cherokee Hermit-ess Midwife who most will never know, but lives simply and profoundly influences many people on the margins of society. These stories make us remember that more is often done with less. Bigger growth happens as we become smaller. More radical change happens when we work with less, and have less to distract us. But this is not in our DNA, and we are left asking the question, “How has one small poor man, and one small poor woman accomplished so much?”

The “Christian” answer is “By the power of God, of course,” but God’s power empowered this man and this woman to live a simple, unassuming life, stripped of ego and desire for worldly gain, with a posture of humility and listening as they served others.

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.

Let me be clear, I am not advocating a movement towards poverty, and I’m aware that some will only see that. What I am advocating for is a life that is committed to living simply in the midst of so 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 our 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. Church growth has been more focused on building a healthy budget, acquiring the right property, in the right neighborhood, with the right building space to set one church up for more growth of “butts in seats,” since the business model trumps the Jesus model (no pun intended). I see the simple life as a means for Christ to be truly seen and known in an increasingly self-centered, complex, consumeristic church life.

For 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 churches, 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 within the machine of global advancement; those who are stepping out of the mainstream view of success, advancement, consumption, and individuality; those who live with less food, less trinkets, consume less resources; those who take seriously Jesus’ call to follow him.

In an excerpt from “Three Temptations of a Christian Leader,” Henri Nouwen prophetically states: “Jesus asks us to move from concern for relevance to a life of prayer, from worries about popularity to communal and mutual ministry, and from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading us and our people… The leader of the future will be one who dares to claim his irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows him or her to enter into a deeper solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success and bring the light of Jesus there.

 

We must challenge our Western notion of what it looks like to be “leaders.” To follow Jesus in a culture committed to over-consumption, individualism, financial success, and “fast” 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.

This simplicity must penetrate the church systems and forms that arise in this next era of church planting, business development, and city engagement. The simple life has a powerfully corrective voice to those who only have one eye open to the problem of consumerism, materialism, and globalization. Jesus counter acts oppressive systems through small, simple acts of small, simple people.

This section is best summed up by the words of Tolkien via Gandalf, as he responds in Rivendale to Lorien’s question, “Why the halfling?” for the journey with the Dwarves:

“Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found it is the small things… everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I’m afraid and he gives me courage” (From the motion picture, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”).

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Weekly @Switchfoot Song: New Way to Be Human

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After Switchfoot’s first album, there was more attention around this young band, and another album was going to be only the beginning for this talented group of guys. In 1999 they came out with their second album “New Way To Be Human.” Their first song was the one that gave more meaning to the album title. Check it out here:

Everyday it’s the same thing
Another trend has begun
Hey kids, this might be the one

It’s a race to be noticed
And it’s leaving us numb
Hey kids, we can’t be the ones

With all of our fashion
We’re still incomplete
The God of redemption
Could break our routine

There’s a new way to be human
It’s nothing we’ve ever been
There’s a new way to be human
New way to be human

And where is our inspiration?
When all the heroes are gone
Hey kids, could we be the ones?

‘Cause nobody’s famous
And nobody’s fine
We all need forgiveness
We’re longing inside

There’s a new way to be human
It’s nothing we’ve ever been
There’s a new way to be human
It’s spreading under my skin
There’s a new way to be human
Where divinity blends
With a new way to be human
New way to be human

You’re throwing your love across
my impossible space
You’ve created me
Take me out of me into…

A new way to be human
To a new way to be human

You’re a new way to be human
Where my humanity bends
To a new way to be human
Redemption begins

You’re a new way to be human
You’re the only way to be human

This is a reset song for humanity. When life seems to be out control in so many ways, we need songs like this to confront our lifestyles; the way we seek comfort, the way we show concern for injustices but end up being handcuffed by fear and lack of passion to do anything about it, the way we naturalize the supernatural by trusting in science, medicine, and professionals more than the divine. We need a new way to be human, a new way of rediscovering the supernatural in our lives.

Every day it’s the same thing, another trend has begun; a trend that will change your life forever! What’s the next fad that will come and convince us we need it or else life will be dull and not worth living. Google Play seems to have done a great job, with their advertising video at least, as they have captured the heart of humanity through story and adventure:

I have to admit… I love this ad. The video was written and put together so well, it tugged at my heart strings and dipped into my passions and made me want to join those little girls shooting arrows at injustice; it’s portraying a new way to be human; passion, courage, fearlessness, love, hate, cry, feel pain. This Google Play ad teaches us about our humanity in such a beautiful way, that we long to feel and remember the good and fight against the bad, to make life count, to be on the side of justice and joy.

This is indeed what we were created for: life, beauty, adventure, justice, sacrifice, generosity, love, but many of us just like to watch the movie, read the book, or play the game. Allowing that passion and courage to manifest into action… a radically changed life… well, that’s just to radical and weird for most of us.

The end of Google’s ad gives us a glimpse into their ‘profit-driven-answer’ as to how the new way to be human ought to be: Go to “Google Play, and play your heart out.” “Get more apps and games. Watch more movies and listen to more music. This is truly living!”

Now, I’m not against good music and movies, I love them, A LOT… but they are not the way to life, and beauty, and adventure, and a new way to be human. They ultimately leave us empty and void of life. Try it… Play games all day, or look at Facebook and watch everyone else’s life that is better and happier than yours, and see how you feel after wards… it feels like one big race to be noticed as being happy, socially connected, with the best kids, the best church, the best life. When we see advertisement like this in our household, Mike Goheen has led us to repeat a family liturgy that responds to these bids of the good life by saying, “Who are you kidding!”

The digital social world looks so good, buying the next thing that advertisement says you need is disappointing when the newer fad comes out after it… the fall from the “high” is a big let down. This type of numbing so that we can live a happy life looks even better when the way to real life, at least what history has shown us is found in sacrifice, suffering, and courage. It’s much easier to feel good by watching a movie or buying a new app, but Jesus’ answer is radically different.

Allow me to speak on behalf of God for a moment, because Jesus demands to be heard in this conversation, for many reasons, but one especially from the gospel of Mark. In the opening chapter of Mark’s letter, Jesus utters the most spectacular announcement of all time: the kingdom of God is here! (Mark 1:15). But what’s even more spectacular is what happens after Jesus announces this spectacular statement, He displays what this statement means and looks like.

If we read through Mark’s letter about Jesus, we would see that He lives and teaches like no other religious leader ever has. Each miracle, every sermon, and all of his movements toward the poor and marginalized is calculated to beat back evil and restore creation to its Maker. The blind see. The deaf hear. The lame walk. The sick are healed. The social outcasts are socially restored. The untouchable are touched. The oppressed are freed. The oppressors are condemned.

Then at the end of Mark’s letter, we see that Jesus’ plan all along was to take all that was broken in the world, and absorb into himself. This means sin done against us, and sin we’ve done against others (and ourselves) is consumed by Christ, but it came at a high cost for Jesus. He became cursed by our cursings, and was rejected because of our reputation. Thankfully, Jesus being God made into a man, died, but death was like sleeping for Jesus, so he woke up after a few days, and when He did, he put to death the death of death and has now offered us, through his sacrifice, suffering, and courage, the greatest gift of all… the “Way” to true life, true beauty, true adventure, true justice, true generosity, true love; he created a new way to be human!

The point isn’t to hate on Google play or apps or movies. Buy them, have fun with them, watch them, enjoy them with friends and family, “play your heart out”, but don’t run to them to answer questions about life, or look to them to define beauty and sacrifice, or allow them to create a new way to be human. The cyber world wasn’t meant to be more real than your neighbor next to you, or your wife or kids.

By Jesus’ words and works of power, He is bringing the kingdom, the ultimate and most satisfying app on the market! You can’t buy it though… you must believe Him and then share Him with others, because He’s the ultimate flesh-satisfying and soul-defining gift to the world. Don’t play without Him! He’s the one who makes you a winner through losing your life.

This post is best summed up by the words of Mother Teresa and Gandalf:

not-all-of-us-can-do-great-things_-but-we-can-do-small-things-with-great-love_-mother-teresa

And the words of Gandalf encourage the same as he responds in Rivendale to Lorien’s question, “Why the halfling?”

“Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found it is the small things… everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I’m afraid and he gives me courage.” (From The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)

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.