On Evangelical Poverty


The following paragraph is one of the most convicting that I have ever come across. It is thoroughly frightening because of its uncompromising straighforwardness. Think of this entry as the companion to "Religion without Sacrifice" below. Because, make no mistake, evangelical poverty to which all are called, is a life of sacrifice.

from Happy Are You Poor Thomas Dubay

Words are cheap, actions costly. The world is full of people who talk about "community." Dressed in the latest styles, men and women, religious as well as lay, are eloquent in their grand statements and convention resolutions about securing justice in the world. We see on television screens and in news magazines pictures of babies who are not much more than skin-covered skeletons, and we solemnly pronounce how wretched and tragic it all is. Ye we continue with our energy-consuming cars, our extravagant amusements, expensive vacations, unneeded traveling, lavish wardrobes, elegant drinking and dining. (p. 62)

Okay, after I catch my breath, I can continue.

I'm guilty. And the problem with my guilt is that even as I read the words I struggle to justify in some sense the things that I do have, and I am left wondering, where does the demand for evangelical poverty stop. For example, I own a computer. I spent a good sum of money on that computer and there is little that it does that could not be done in some other way--not as efficiently, but people have lived for thousands of years without them, and they do cost a great deal of money. Yes, I own a car and living where I do am subject to some fairly extravagant amusements. The only one of these that I cannot really claim is an "extravagant wardrobe," and even there, by world standards my five white shirts and five pairs of black pants are pretty extraordinary.

What can I reasonably possess without dispossessing others? What are the limits to the concern about evangelical poverty? I have a house full of books (literally full, every room has some). I could go down a long list of meae culpae, but to no real purpose. I know that I live extravagantly by any standards other than those of the few who live even better than I do. I live in the most privileged country on Earth and so partake of some of the extravagance of that advantage.

It is said by Erasmus that St. Thomas More never drank anything other than cold water; that when he attended a banquet he would only touch his lips to the wine as a courtesy to his host, we would not drink it. Is this the kind of poverty we are called to?

Most Americans eat too much. We eat far more than is necessary to sustain life and we eat far more higher up on the food chain than most of the rest of the world. The diseases of our old age reflect this way of living. Extravagance is also costly.

Later in the book, it appears that there is a checklist of items to help decide these issues. But decision is exactly the problem, because I know what Dubay has presented thus far is true and correct. (You would have to read the book to be convinced of the argument yourselves, but please accept for the moment that my statement above is true and valid). How do we answer the following statement by John Kenneth Galbraith, quoted in the books?

"what is called a high standard of living consists in considerable measure, in arrangements for avoiding muscular energy, for increasing sensual pleasure and enhancing caloric intake above any conceivable nutritional requirement." (p. 102)

Now, I am not really trying to convince anybody of the correctness of what Dubay is saying. But I find myself in the position of the wealthy young man who asks how he might serve the Lord and is told, "Go and sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me." Now, raising a family, I know this injunction is not in its fullness meant to me--but then neither am I allowed to completely ignore it. As I read through the book I shall, from time to time, share my convictions--but convicted I am on two counts--lack of detachment and lack of humility, because as Dubay points out, these are two essential ingredients of evangelical poverty.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 9, 2002 8:05 AM.

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