Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective Edited & Compiled by Michael Schut

As it was for many people, the period after the 2004 presidential election was not a happy time for me. After four years of disastrous Bush administration leadership, I was incredulous and deeply dispirited that Kerry lost by such a narrow margin. If a Republican draft dodger could beat a decorated Democratic war hero (with a slew of high ranking military brass in his corner), everything seemed hopeless. Our country seemed destined not to veer from its chosen path of dangerous military aggression and misguided economic policies favoring the wealthy but ignoring the rest of our citizenry.

And I was further heartbroken that media pundits were reporting that Christians had tipped the scales for Bush in close races where gay marriage ballot initiatives inspired many to go to the polls. In the popular culture, the notion that Christians were intolerant, mean-spirited bigots was becoming more deeply entrenched, and the true ethos of Christianity was being overshadowed.

As I mourned the results of the election, I turned to my faith. I began to read the Bible on a daily basis--a practice I had always meant to embrace but which I had not previously accomplished for more than a few days at a time. I initially focused on the four books of the New Testament that comprise the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I tried to meditate on what Jesus had tried to teach us and eventually came to have some much needed perspective on the election. I was reminded of basic points: politicians are not always driven by the highest of motivations, they are not always honest, and in a democracy they are limited in what they can achieve. I was not naive and continued to believe that a second Bush-Cheney term brought suffering that might have been avoided with an American regime change in 2004. However, I was also cognizant that a Kerry administration might not have been able to do much better. This time of spiritual growth reminded me that as a Christian I need to be concerned with matters of long-term, lasting importance, and not the results of one election. My ultimate faith rests in God and his truth, not politicians or their promises. Like many, I’m not a particularly patient person, so of course this was not an easy lesson to learn.

During this time, I stopped by a Catholic bookstore near my office one evening after work. I was looking for something encouraging to read, but I was not sure what. I found a book called Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective. It was a compilation of essays by a number of people. None of the authors were familiar to me at that time. The essays were each quite different in style and focus. Many had been originally printed in other publications. As a whole, the book did not always jell. Nonetheless, I was really excited by the concepts in many of the essays. The authors wrote about the spiritual, physical, ecological, and/or economic tolls of our modern consumer culture. In various ways, they advocated a less materialistic lifestyle; based on Christian principles they encouraged an embrace of what some of the authors described as “voluntary simplicity.”

The ideas in this book had a profound impact on me and my family. My husband and I were inspired to read a number of good books on voluntary simplicity, and to embark on a path towards a simpler, happier life. No, we did not sell all our worldly possessions and become Amish. But our family did give away a lot of our belongings, we became more mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards, and we focused more on our relationships with one another and with God. These differences have made such a difference in the quality of our lives. We are very grateful. And in some ways we have George W. Bush and Karl Rove to thank. Indeed, God does work in mysterious ways!

Luke 16:13 (Amplified Bible)
“No servant is able to serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stand by and be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (riches, or anything in which you trust and on which you rely).”

Matthew 19:21-22 (New International Version)
“Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

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