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Minimalism as a Gospel Calling

December 18, 2018

I don’t often discuss my religious life on this site, but as I start discussing minimalism and my personal reasons for pursuing that lifestyle, my faith is bound to come up. I feel this is especially true given the fact that much of religion preaches the redistribution of wealth (in its many forms) whether or not that same religion actually practices it. In any case, I went to church last weekend and the sermon (the Catholic Church calls them homilies”) was about just that: giving to those that need (preferably through a Catholic charity).

The homily went there because the Gospel reading thematically drove the point. From Luke 3:11: [John the Baptist] answered them, He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.’” The reading and the homily got me thinking about the Gospel expectation of minimalism. The idea is everywhere in the Bible. (For Gospel passages, I will stick to Luke and I will not repeat the passage above.)

  • Psalm 112: 1, 9
    • 1 Praise the Lord. Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in his commands. … 9 They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor, their righteousness endures forever.
  • Luke 12:33-34
    • 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
  • Luke 18:18, 22
    • 18 A certain ruler asked him, Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” … 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
  • Luke 21: 1-4
    • 1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 Truly I tell you,” he said, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
  • 2 Corinthians 6:3, 4, 10
    • 3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: … 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

I believe that the Bible and my faith dictate my minimalistic tendencies. Over time, separating the ideals of my faith from my approaches to the world around me gets harder, especially as some approaches are co-opted by hipster movements (Minimalism) or bastardized by consumeristic sentiments (Christmas).

Back to the point, the homily went about as far as I expect a homily will generally go, which is to say not far enough. The actual content of the homily aside, the point was that people should prepare the way of the Lord (as we approach the birth of Jesus) by following John the Baptist’s suggestion in Luke: if you have excess, give it to those that have need of it. The idea is an important one as evinced by the above biblical texts, but where the homily didn’t go far enough in my opinion is in the glossing over of the timeline in which we find ourselves: teeming in the excesses of the Christmas season itself.

People don’t want to be challenged to actually give away their things, especially not just after they have likely purchased more things. Instead, we often opt for the satisfaction that the idea was even spoken aloud. Or said differently, we don’t need to change anything about ourselves because being challenged is enough. I think most people leave the religion they grow up in because of that lack of follow through, the lack of action associated with the challenges they hear; or perhaps because the challenge itself is too challenging.