The (Probably) Simple Life (or Silliness in the Church)

As I spent time reading through Colossians (see last post) for my pre-Sunday meditation, I remembered these words, 

“You pastors should live a simple life.”

These words were spoken to me by a bejeweled lady in a church where I spent my summer practicum. They were spoken to me in the year 2001. And now, seven years later, I am still in the dark as to what she actually meant. Because the incident happened three years short of a decade ago, I barely remember the context of her words. I remember though that she overheard me and a colleague talking about a recent purchase I made. Like I said, it was a long time ago, so I’m not exactly sure if I had just purchased a wallet or a watch. Anyway, I mentioned a brand which, while a bit steep price-wise, was definitely not the kind that would burn a hole in your pocket. (Assuming we’re talking about cars, my purchase can be compared to a Mitsubishi–not extravagant like a Rolls, not cheap like a, uhm… Cherry.) 

Anyways, the lady heard of my purchase and told me, by way of gentle rebuke, the words in quotes above. And for the past seven years, it’s been going round and round in my head waiting for an explanation. The lady left soon after so asking her was moot. And she took her jewelry with her. 

Simple life. Or to put it in another way, “live simply.”

Now, I can take that to apply in several ways. For example, does it mean that I have to live two steps down the social ladder compared to other Christians who are not pastors? When I eat out, am I limited only to Tropical Hut Hamburger while everybody else in church (because they are not pastors) can eat at Spiral? (For the record, Tropical Hut is a “man on the street” kind of burger joint. The food choices are more than satisfactory, and price is affordable. Spiral on the other hand–that’s a very high class buffet restaurant in the Hotel Sofitel, formerly Philippine Plaza Hotel. Buffet, last I ate there, was over two thousand pesos per head. Lamb chops were heavenly, though.)  

Does it mean, clothes-wise, that others can buy from Marks and Spencer or signature designers while I should be satisfied with plain white shirts and ordinary run-of-the-mill jeans? (Incidentally a friend of mine said that buying signature brands does not necessarily equate with good fit. Often, the inexpensive ones fit better–it’s because you’re wearing CLOTHES and not somebody’s SIGNATURE on your back.)

Does it mean that, God willing I have money to buy a car, I can only buy a low end Toyota (relatively cheap, and hassle-free maintenance-wise) and not uhm say, a BMW?

I can go on–the kind of house I live in, the kind of books I read, where my kids eventually will go to school–but you get the drift.

Please note, dear friends, that I am not espousing some kind of extravagant living. By no means. We are indeed called to be good stewards of the blessings that God has graciously bestowed. We are to use our resources within the framework of being salt and light of the earth. This mean that I have to sacrifice buying something because the money would be better used to feed missionaries or help a segment of the urban poor, sacrifice the special something. 

What I find bothersome is the perception that, because they are set aside for given to full-time ministry, pastors should exhibit some sort of austerity that borders on the semi-preposterous. Is there a hidden demarcation line between pastors and lay people when it comes to purchasing power? If “living simply” were prescriptive in scripture, is there anything anywhere in scripture that demands pastors only to follow? Aren’t we all (pastors and lay people alike) called to live lives that reflect an attitude of “this world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through?” Assuming for a minute that “living simply” were an axiom of the Christian faith, isn’t it the height of hypocrisy for one person to hold others to it, while excusing him/herself, albeit in ignorance and with no wrong or evil intentions, from the same standards? 

I’ll shut up now.

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