Living the simple life

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A friend and parishioner of mine, Dr. Ada "Dottie" Cruce, once told me about a trip she made in 1984 to the USSR. She had gone there with a group of psychologists. She recalls going to the huge Soviet department store known as GUM. We Americans are familiar with so-called "big box" stores, but according to all accounts, we have nothing like the old GUM stores. GUMs were immense warehouses where Soviet citizens could, conceivably, buy almost anything. A one-stop shop in the truest sense of the word.

Only one problem -- the GUM stores never had much on the shelves. Dr. Cruce recalls going up and down the aisles looking at mostly bare shelves. Ordinary Russians, then, knowing the failures of the state-run GUMs, carried small cloth bags on their person everywhere they went. In their everyday journeys in town, they would buy the day's needs from sidewalk vendors, who seemed to have what the GUMs promised but failed to deliver.

Another friend, an insurance agent who served as a Marine helicopter pilot in Lebanon, told me that it is easy to appreciate the United States. In his words, "just go and live somewhere else for a while and you'll see."

We take so much for granted. The availability of goods, for example. When it comes to grocery shopping, as a resident of the city of Cape Girardeau, I have at least seven excellent options to purchase food and other items. (That's not counting convenience stores or the excellent Angel Food Ministry.) We live in a land of availability that many other people cannot even imagine.

It is timely, then, to recall the simplicity of St. Francis of Assisi. Today is his feast day. The Downtown Council of Churches is marking the occasion with a St. Francis Day at 4 p.m. at the Capaha Park band shell to which all of you are invited. Francis was a fascinating figure. He was born to wealth and status. After a time of experimentation (a period of excess in which he found no sense of satisfaction), he shunned it all. He morphed into a willing pauper. In his poverty, he found his life.

I do not suggest poverty as a way of life. I only suggest that material wealth isn't a panacea. It's not the path to life. You can have lots of material things and be happy, content, useful and purposeful. But money doesn't equal satisfaction and purpose; material things are not a cure-all -- despite what you may hear on certain game shows like "Deal or No Deal." St. Francis was on to something.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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