“The plane! The plane!” This was how a TV program began that I used to watch as a child in Bogotá. It was about an island where all the desires of those that arrived there would be fulfilled. In English it was called Fantasy Island.
It is possible to live on Fantasy Island right now, hoping that all our material wants will be fulfilled. Many television commercials say: “Would you like to have this or that? Well then, the only thing you need to do is …”. Marketing strategies, social media, the media and even churches sow desires in us dressed up as needs that did not exist before.
Our consumption patterns are important to God. Our lifestyle – as well as what we consume – always preaches a message. Jesus himself warns us about the risks that we run with material things. To possess them – or not to have them – can create such longing and anxiety that it can even displace God. How difficult it is to distinguish among true needs, wants and luxuries!
In our Anabaptist tradition, we believe that how we manage money and what we consume is profoundly spiritual. It is for this reason that the concept of “simplicity” developed very early on in our communities. “To live simply” means adopting a lifestyle that runs contrary to so much that our society teaches.
One person who has had a profound effect on me in this regard is a member of one of our churches in Canada. As the owner of a large and successful company, he decided to limit his director-level salary and donate the additional company profit to church-based projects. His life is a concrete example of rejecting the accumulation of material wealth and voluntarily opting to live simply!
Even so, I have also come across people in our churches and institutions that have misunderstood what “simplicity” is. Sometimes simple living is confused with poverty. However, not everyone who lacks financial resources lives simply and as such those who have less also need to opt to live simply. It is very different to live simply because you have decided to do so and to do so because there is no other option.
Living simply is also sometimes confused with a lack of cleanliness and order. Sometimes, wanting to appear to be living simply leads to personal neglect, dirtiness, untidiness and poor taste. Even so, the appearance of simplicity does not always imply the cheapest option. How wonderful it is to meet people and organizations that practice a simplicity that is aesthetically pleasing due to its order and cleanliness!
Simple living encompasses many things. It has to do with how we manage our time and our money. It shows us that less really can be more. The practice of simple living affects our priorities, the use of credit, the goal of saving, the way in which we manage our time at work and our time for rest. It invites us to be generous and re-evaluate the notion of “possession.” Simple living has to do with the environment, which in turn is related to sustainable development, fair trade, organic agriculture and recycling, among other things.
In this issue of the Courier, we have chosen to focus on this last aspect: creation care. Over the last couple of years, many of our churches have suffered due to natural disasters. Without a doubt, our consumerist desires end up negatively affecting whole societies in other parts of the world, including members of our own faith family that live in those places.
It is for this reason that we need to remember that individualism, egotism and consumerism are the opposite of simple living. All these “-isms” reinforce the idea that you are the most important person on the Earth, pushing you away from Jesus and his message of compassion. This message invites us to focus on others and to extend compassion to all of creation.
We do not need to legislate simple living and compassion. Jesus does not call us to make a universal list of what to wear, what to spend and what to consume. It is not the same to live simply in the rural areas as in the city; nor is it the same to live simply in the Majority World as in the Minority World. These are decisions that need to be context specific. It is the responsibility of each church to discern what it means to live simply in their context by depending on the Holy Spirit and dialoguing with other faith communities.
It is my prayer that this issue of Courier contributes toward ongoing growth with this goal in mind.
—César García, MWC general secretary, works out of the head office in Bogotá, Colombia.
This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier April 2018.