Haunted by Plain Folk: Why Simplicity Should be a Christian Virtue

Last month an essay of mine was published in the Journal of Brethren Life and Thought. Since that journal is probably not one that will be showing up in your mailbox anytime soon, I thought I’d included a bit of it here. The piece is based on a presentation I gave some years back; I’m happy to see it in print.

Simplicity strikes many of us as a good, if occasionally naïve, thing. In his “A Salutation of the Virtues” the thirteenth century saint, Francis of Assisi, cast Simplicity as a courtly sister to Queen Wisdom, outranking Lady Poverty and Lady Charity. In the twenty-first century we may well be intrigued by Simplicity but we probably lack the saint’s solemn devotion. Consider the TV reality show “The Simple Life,” which cast socialite Paris Hilton in the role of a farm worker. The foibles of the out-of-place heiress generated spinoff shows around the world. thrill of the chasteThe irony of simplicity’s attraction in a complex and fragmented time is captured in Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s marvellously titled book Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels. There Weaver-Zercher explores the growing American fascination with “bonnet rippers.” She relates that in 2002 only two such books were published. In 2012 there were 85.[1] This growth betrays, she thinks, a desire on the part of readers to be transported from a hypermodern and hypersexualized present to a simpler way of life. Weaver-Zercher is not alone in her analysis. Sociologists Donald Kraybill and Carl Bowman offer a corroborating conclusion about our cultural fascination with plain living. In a book about Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren they write,

Despite all our comfort and convenience, the possibility that [members of these plain communities] are happier haunts, indeed, torments the postmodern soul.[2] Continue reading “Haunted by Plain Folk: Why Simplicity Should be a Christian Virtue”

On Being Dust

I looked across the group who had gathered at the front of the sanctuary. I had just marked them with the sign of the cross in ash. It was the ash of palm branches and the ash of our prayers. sign of the crossI had said to them, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” These words are biblical words; they come directly from the third chapter of Genesis. These words are the words of God to creatures who thought themselves to be gods. And yet I looked at those marks, on the heads of my friends, and thought them undeserving of such heaviness. I felt as though we had done something unspeakable. In a way we had. We had spoken aloud our mortality. We had marked our bodies with it. We bore on our foreheads the prospect of our funerals. Continue reading “On Being Dust”