Thursday, January 29, 2009

Living Simply

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

It's Bob, writing to wish you a therapeutic Thursday (I'm not quite sure what I really mean by that...I just hope that the day is in some way stimulating for you. May you find joy in the day before Friday!).


I'm taking a political philosophy class this semester which I am finding to be rather enjoyable. The readings we are doing are thought provoking; we've read fragments from Milton Friedman's book (taking a look at a rather conservative approach to handling the economy/politics), we've tackled some reading from a thinker named John Rawls (his economic philosophy is considered liberal in our day---more government with more social programs, accepting economic inequality if and only if that inequality can benefit those with the least amount of money (it is a fairly confusing but logical argument once the teacher simplified it for us...I'm still a bit confused by Rawls I must admit), and finally, we've read Brian Barry, an English man (he talks about England a lot...I assume he is British), who focuses his concerns on social justice and creating an equal opportunity society. Though his tone his harsh, condemning and rather angry, his point resounds deep within me; justice equals fairness for all, it equals providing sound education for ALL and healthcare for ALL our sisters and brothers. How we go about offering this justice can surely be debated...but the core of why we ought to or should offer it seems simple enough---do unto others, love your neighbor, demand liberty and justice for all.

So, I've sketched out one of my philosophy classes (yawn, yawn...boring, you might be saying to yourself.) Or, you might be saying, "hey kid, I know these things...been there, done that." Ok, I accept your criticism. But, I think that some themes should be repeated over and over again. A teaching I find eloquent and pressing is the social teaching of the Catholic Church. During Vatican II (mid 1960s), the Catholic Church came out with a new, updated message for where the institution stands on helping the poor: in a word...ALL should be fed, ALL should be given justice, ALL should be given respect, ALL should be allowed their own spiritual identity. What I mean to say is that the human person, in her inherent humanism, should be endowed with all the nurturing and gifts and care that she deserves.

Is this an easy task? Absolutely not. Bringing about what we might call the "kingdom of God" HERE AND NOW is a most difficult endeavor. It will take our lifetime and longer.

I had lunch with a Jesuit friend of mine yesterday who is a self-proclaimed eccentric and not your typical person entering religious life (that is to say, he is a Jesuit, meaning he lives in community with other people who are either priests or brothers and who take vows of poverty, celibacy, obedience, and, technically speaking, a special promise of obedience to the Pope.) My friend is, as he said, probably not your typical "religious" (a term often used to label someone who decides to take such vows within a community or order). So, why do I bring my self-proclaimed eccentric friend into this discussion about my political philosophy class? Well, one thing he said during lunch really stuck with me. I asked him how his first year living in a Jesuit community was (this is called a novitiate year, when a person has not yet taken the vows the religious community or order asks him or her to take). My friend responded that, in some ways, community life was challenging. However, he found that, since his only real task was to simply pray and discern whether or not he felt called to join this active, service oriented community, he felt a kind of neat simpleness or tranquility. He was able to sort of get rid of a bunch of "stuff" that he had been clinging to. He said that before he entered the Jesuits, his life was full of "stuff..." stuff, stuff and more stuff. It made me think about my own life and how much "stuff" I either own or cling to. Material goods dominate our culture here in the United States where so many of us have so much disposable money. I look around my room, as I finish typing this blog, and realize how much "stuff" is in here.
At what point do I say, "enough. I have ENOUGH stuff?" How do I learn to leave "stuff" behind? There are places, goods, sometimes even people that become "stuff" in our lives. When a person is just a good for us, and not a living, breathing realization that Creation is a wonderful thing, then that person has become a "stuff." Maybe we have too much stuff to see that person for what he or she really is. "Stuff" often deprives us of intimacy, or really knowing who we are or who our neighbor is. "Stuff," when it comes to conquer our life, becomes a god that we worship. Where there is only "stuff," there is no room to hear the quiet whispering voice of God or a loved one---a family member or friend who is calling us to leave our stuff behind and cling to what is truly important.

There is a fourth author that I didn't mention before who I am just starting to read for my political philosophy course. His name is E.F. Schumacher, and the title of his book is "Small is Beautiful...Economics as if People Mattered." What Schumacher really calls for is a "metaphysical reconstruction" of our society; that is, an economics and political system that seeks to live in harmony with nature and seek the root of our existence, our relationship with one another. Schumacher converted to Catholicism in the 1970s and was largely influenced and swayed by the social teaching of the Catholic church. It is this teaching that probably most inspired him to take his philosophy in the direction he took it. For his part, he is considered one of the first "green" economists and is sort of a forerunner to much of the green movement of today. Drawing from Schumacher's work, we can look at ourselves and ask the question, "how simple do we live?" To borrow from my Jesuit friend, how much "stuff"---excess stuff---do we have? Do we need all this stuff? Does this stuff help us love others? Or, does stuff get in the way of holding out our hand to a neighbor in need? If we live simply, others can simply live.

Maybe we can live as disciples and apostles with just the clothes on our back (metaphorically speaking I suppose), and trust that the necessary things will be provided. Take only what you need and leave the rest. To reword a famous Gandhi quote, "Be the SIMPLICITY you PREACH." I encourage all of us to try and live simply so others may simply live. And remember, baby steps are perfectly fine...bringing about the kingdom here on this earth, bringing about social justice will take time and ALL of our collaborated efforts. But doing it together, we realize that we are never alone. Being together we have the opportunity to come to the core of our being. May we find God in all things and have the courage to go beyond stuff and into the silence of God-is-with-us.

peace and JUNTOS SOMOS FUERTES! (together, we are strong)

with love,

your friend bob.

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