Over Pints At Clinton's

My traveling missionary friend made this observation after reflecting on how the book of Acts shaped him: “I get my aggressiveness from Paul. But I get my simple living from Buddha.” Given where he’s traveled and what he’s experienced, I definitely get what he means by these words. What I pointed out to him and what sort of rattles around my brain is that simple living appears in Acts as a theme. There is talk of the early church selling possessions and sharing what money could be pooled together. I know that there is a subset of Christians, often associated with, say, the Quakers or the Mennonites that takes simple living seriously. The rest of us don’t really, at least I don’t get that feeling. Can a case be made that this doctrine, however inconvenient it might be in a profit-driven, status anxious society, is far more central to Christianity than what we have made it?

I know that there are rationalizations for avoiding simple living. Christians who get rich are generally given a free pass on living like, well, anyone else who is rich. This is seen as a way to have influence among the power-brokers – you need to move in these circles in order to get influence and power, and who doesn’t want those things? Maybe that sounds over the top, but that’s one of the things that I’ve heard. I’m not saying this to slag the wealthy, but to slag how many of them live. Living simply is more challenging no doubt when you can afford a Bugatti Veyron or a private jet or something, but it doesn’t absolve one any more than attractive-looking or smooth-talking people are absolved from marital infidelity. Additionally, I’m sure that there are ostentatious Buddhists who do not live simply – just probably not in rural northern India or Nepal where my friend tends to encounter Buddhists.

None of this absolves us though. To what extent should we try to live simply? What does simple living look like? I’m not sure I’m ready to move into a commune or something.