Live Simply So Others May Simply Live. - Gandhi
Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God. – Luke 12:16-21
By Jeannette Arnquist
The above parable presents a challenge to Christians living in the United States today. The message of Jesus challenges the idea that “More is Better.” It is pretty obvious that most of us consume too much stuff. We can’t put our cars, worth thousands of dollars, in our garages because they are full of things we will never use. We rent storage units, fill them with stuff, lock them and pay rent every month. How many pairs of shoes do we have that we never wear because they’re out of style or hurt our feet (just so you don’t think I am absolving myself of this criticism, I will admit to owning 21 pairs of shoes). And we keep buying more things because we think it will solve a problem or just because we want something different or new or because we think we’re getting a good deal. Is the goal of life to work, shop, accumulate and then die?
While we’re on this subject, several times I have been part of a group of people who “took care of” the lifelong accumulation of stuff that someone who died left behind. This is never easy, because in addition to dealing with the loss of someone we loved, there is the question, “What do we do with all this stuff?” And it can get way more complicated if two different people think they deserve the same treasured object.
Having so much stuff actually hurts us personally. It limits our freedom. Because everything that we own has a tendency to own a bit of us. Having so much stuff takes up our time and energy so that we have less available for our relationships with God, with other humans and nature.
We need to ask ourselves “How much is enough?”
The United States has 4.25 percent of the world’s population. We consume about 20 percent of the world’s energy, 33 percent of the world’s paper. The average home in the United States is 25 percent larger than the average home in European countries. I could go on.
The daily caloric intake of food in the United States averages 3,400 per person. In Africa, it is 2,400. The United States wastes enough food every day to feed 80 million people. And 25,000 people die from hunger across the world every day.
We eat too much, we have too much, we use too much. It is bad for us. It is bad for the poor of the world. It is bad for the planet.
What does this have to do with social justice? The accumulation of an overabundance of goods by a few while others lack the necessities for life and dignity is not God’s plan. “The goods of creation are destined for the entire human race” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2452). If we claim to be followers of Jesus, we will love one another, and if we love one another, we will act in love to see that all have the means for not just staying alive but thriving.
What to do?
On a personal level, we can begin to consume consciously and conscientiously. We can attempt to live more simply. Before we shop or buy something, we can ask ourselves if we really need it. Instead of asking if we can afford it, we can ask if it is more than our share. We can ask if the planet can afford our continuing consumption. We can walk, bike or take public transportation instead of driving, which, by the way, is a really good idea in the light of gasoline prices today. We can eat plant-based meals more often.
We can give away or donate the things clogging our garages and closets (provided that they are clean and serviceable). We can create neighborhood or church rummage sales. (My parish recently made $13,000 on a rummage sale and we also managed to give away to refugees most of the things that were not sold.)
Most important, on a systemic level, we can work for policies that promote the common good for everyone on the planet, knowing that it might mean less for us. Because we are more than what we own.
If we take Jesus seriously, we will listen to him and follow his teachings and grow rich in what matters to God.
Jeanette Arnquist is a former Director of the Department of Life, Dignity & Justice for the Diocese of San Bernardino. She is retired and living in Tucson, Arizona where she remains active in social concerns ministries.