11 August 2007

stop and smell the smoke

We are all the same.

We all want. We all crave. We all desire.

Sometimes, when our perspective begins to wane and life seems to be one long journey through one big rut, we begin to wonder. Maybe I should simplify. Maybe happiness is in poverty. Maybe Jesus knew something when he said “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” as we conveniently leave out the “in spirit” part.

I have been guilty of this self-deception. There is no beauty in poverty. There is no magic in simplicity. Just as there is no wonder in wealth or lasting joy in excess.

Whether we feast or fast, it’s all smoke. It is lingering temporarily and, pfft, it’s gone. It is a man chasing the wind.

The poor look longingly at the estates of the wealthy. Over fences and through tinted car windows, the poor dream of filling rooms (tombs?) with furniture and filling closets with clothes.

The rich then look back at the poor and wonder. They long for the simple life, wondering if the key to happiness isn’t in a more minimal existence. They imagine the stress melting away as decisions about SUVs and granite backsplashes disappear.

Both long for something else, something more meaningful.

Here, we see both sides. To our South African friends, we are still very wealthy. To our American friends, we have voluntarily taken on poverty. Both sides wonder what it would be like for a couple to live on $700 a month.

We, like Solomon in Scripture, are realizing that all of it is folly. We walk the malls here and watch as those who have money spend as recklessly as the most materialistic American. And those with very little look longingly through store windows, dreaming of how they would like to spend as well. The only difference between the two is in their bank account. The hearts of both are still wanting. The desires of both are for more - bigger, deeper, better, newer, and nicer. More...

There is no magic in this poverty.

If we are happier, if we are closer, it is because we spend our days together rather than apart. If we are whole, it is because we are in relationship. No amount of more or less will bring fulfillment. Ever.

All of this is not to say that we lack admiration for those living simply. The hungry cry out to God, while the satisfied sleep soundly. We do believe that there is blessing in lack, if only because the poor, like children, often cry out to the Father. We do believe that wealth is dangerous, if only because Jesus told us so, because I have yet to figure out how a camel fits through the eye of a needle.

What all of this is to say, I am not completely sure. We are learning, though. We are learning that, outside of relationship, it is all smoke. Outside of fellowship, it is all vanity. Outside of America, it is really not so different. Pfft...


  1. Um, I haven't even seen the Simpsons yet! No fair! When I was living in a 3rd world country - it would take at lease 2 months to get modern movies overseas.

    Dude.... I'm gonna go find me some pap and eat it!

  2. Interesting observation...you aren't going to start a new communist regime there, are you? j/k. Glad to see y'all are keeping your sense of humor btw. I'm sure it gets you through a lot of tough times.