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Friday, December 08, 2006

The Strenuous Life

I'm still trying to get over this bug but I wanted to pass along a passage I read today. I'm finally reading Day's autobiography, "The Long Loneliness." On page 118 she quotes William James.
"Poverty is indeed the strenuous life,-without brass bands or uniforms or hysteric popular applause or lies or circumlocutions; and when one sees the way in which wealth-getting enters as an ideal into the very bone and marrow of our generation, one wonders whether the revival of the belief that poverty is a worthy religious vocation may not be the transformation of military courage, and the spiritual reform which our time stands most in need of.
Among us English-speaking people especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sun. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient realization of poverty could have meant; the liberation form material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life an any moment irresponsibly,-the more athletic trim, in short, the fighting shape."

Our society embraces wealth, even most Christians believe financial prosperity is a gift from God. Though, I can't recall any scripture passages in which Christ tells his followers they will receive rewards on earth and in heaven. And I don't recall Jesus, the King of Kings, wearing royal robes or preaching from a throne while the disciples fed him grapes. What I do recall is Jesus saying it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. I still remember how confusing this passage seemed to me as a child. My Methodist Sunday school teachers could never explain it to my satisfaction. I was surrounded by people (and family) who sought and rewarded wealth. Were they all going to hell? I was taught, as many still are, that good church going people who put something in the collection basket each week are on the path to heaven. Rich people don't have to actually become poor! What will be the eternal consequences of such beliefs? Embracing poverty is hard, as is dispelling any preconceived notions about the poor. I hope I can squeeze my way through the needle into heaven, and along the way maybe make some of those old Methodists around me question what they learned in Sunday school.