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Francis on Simplicity

By John Michael Talbot and Steve Rabey | January 4 2008

 

This early example of itinerant gospel ministry is the source of the “mendicant,” or open-handed, approach to simplicity. Admittedly, it’s an extreme approach that is impractical and unappealing for the vast majority of people.

 

 

2. The communal model

A second biblical model is found in the book of Acts, a firsthand account that describes the phenomenal growth of the first Christian community:

 

 

"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44-45).

 

 

The communal model formed the basis of the earliest monastic settlements and provides the framework for our life here at Little Portion, where both men and women live in community, own nothing and contribute their individual labors to the benefit of the whole.

 

 

This model’s superficial similarities to counterculture’s experimentation with communal living in the 1960s and 1970s also help explain why a 1971 article in LOOK magazine described Francis as “The Hippie Saint.”

 

 

3. The way of equality

The Apostle Paul outlined a third, more mainstream model in his second letter to the believers at Corinth:

 

 

“... as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply [others’] needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.”

 

 

This equality-based model for simple living is both practical and urgent in our day.

 

 

PRACTICING EQUALITY IN A WORLD OF SAVAGE DISPARITY

Equality is a noble ideal, but how do we practice it in our own time? North Americans—even those who are relatively poor—are among the richest residents of our planet. Though only 5 percent of the world’s population, we consume around 40 percent of the world’s resources.

 

 

Meanwhile, more than 40,000 people around the globe die every day as a result of preventable, hunger-related causes.

 

 

Ours is a world in which the few possess much while the many do not possess even their most basic needs. This chasm of disparity calls out for a compassionate response.

 

 

Or as Gandhi challenged his followers, “Live simply so that others may simply live.”

 

 

Simplicity is more than a way of improving our spiritual and psychological health. For one, it’s a way to symbolically enter into the suffering of others around the world. But beyond symbolism, simple living is a practical way to decrease our emphasis on self-gratification and increase our ability to share with others, just as Francis and Paul have suggested.

 

 

DISTINGUISHING WANTS FROM NEEDS

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