Ladies and gentlemen, I am in Asia! Landed in Singapore today; heading to Hong Kong to hang out with some exciting church planters tomorrow, whom my church in Coventry sent out last summer. (As their ex-international student worker I take complete responsibility for all of their wonderful skunk works and dabblings 😉 I’m really looking forward to spending time with those great guys again, embracing some divine appointments with other people, getting insights into Hong Kong culture, eating amazing food, and generally reconnecting with this part of the world which is also a part of me, having spent two-and-a-bit years of my childhood there.
Singapore is hot stuff; this place is buzzing. The malls are shiny and the eateries never sleep. Every time I return, the ladies look skinnier and better groomed. (The men, well, it’s still hard to get them to care — phew — but they have an ever-increasing plethora of personal grooming products too.) Your next door neighbour, nephew in school, and pet rabbit all have iPhones. And iPads. And iPad minis. (And they will beat you at every game you can find to play on them…) Most everyone that I can see out on the street has cash to spare and a nice big car. And a mental list of things that they want to next spend on. A good friend of mine, who worked in government here before I met her, once said that the overall economic policy direction of Singapore for the next decade or so was approximately to turn the country into a “playground for the rich”.
I took a vow of simplicity back in July 2011, which is a 21st-century update on the monastic vow of poverty. Not out of some sadistic ascetic desire to hurt myself, but because I believe there is something about the simple life that cuts through the noise of the world and lets the still, small voice of the Spirit sing through. And in this crazy busy spinning world, in this life, I know that I need that to anchor me. I need You.
“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 peoples especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sung. 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 realisation of poverty could have meant; the liberation from 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 at any moment irresponsibly, — the more athletic trim, in short, the fighting shape.”
— William James, first read in Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
— Jesus, in Mark 8.35-36
Wondering if this is a kind of watchword to my generation in Singapore and if so, what God is telling me to do about it. I feel a change coming on…
How about you? What does living a life of simplicity look like for you?