In the U.S. it is pretty obvious how materialistically oriented our society is. The draw of Francis on my life constantly reminds me that life, and even joy, isn’t found in ‘stuff.’ It’s found in connection with the Trinity: a dependency on the Father, an apprenticeship to Christ, and a friendship with Holy Spirit.
The stark contrast of the frantic and distracted chase after ‘things’ (and esteem), with the simplicity of abandoning it all for the sake of the Kingdom is a part of the Francis-draw on my life. Today we might call it “minimalism with Christ-centered purpose.” Author Joshua Becker describes minimalism as, “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.” I believe we see this intentionality radically lived out in the way of Francis, and it has the power to challenge us to do the same. Sure, we may not take it to the extremes that Francis did, but how far will we let it take us? Every step holds freedom for us, but we won’t experience it until we move our feet.
I believe that another kind of simplicity (or poverty) that we see in the way of Francis is a spiritual simplicity. For Francis it was all about Jesus. In a world with Christian beliefs fractured into denominations and movements, the heartbeat that we hear in Francis was a heartbeat for Jesus – and following His way. I believe we’ve made things too complicated, and that following the way of Jesus is not complex, rather it is allowing all the excess of our culture and religiosity to be stripped away to let Jesus be the answer. I believe what we find then is not a complex system of dogma, but a simple way. Simple, but not easy – it confronts all the things that our culture tells us is needed for a blessed life. Rather, life in the Kingdom of Heaven flips the power structure of the world on its head and says ‘yes’ to the kingship of Jesus. The example of Francis is a radical one, because he looked to Jesus, and when Jesus said to do something (in Scripture or by impression of the Spirit) – he did it. No matter how crazy it seemed. Nowadays we could use that kind of ‘foolishness.’ I think the world needs the church to practice that kind of foolishness.
With this all said, it goes a bit deeper. Where the cultural idea of today’s ‘simplicity’ falls short in contextualizing the idea of ‘Francis’ poverty’ is in the poverty of downward mobility. Solidarity with the poor, suffering, and marginalized was a huge part of the way of Francis. I’ll say a bit more when I talk about obedience, but one unescapable part of Francis is that there is a special experience of solidarity with Christ and experience of the Christian walk that comes with embracing this poverty, or minimalism with mission. It’s not hidden in poverty itself, but in the heart that learns the freedom of letting go. Letting go of the norms, expectations, and comforts of an excessively consumeristic, get-the-newest-model, own the biggest and best, society. It may look like a downgrade from society’s perspective, but from the Kingdom of Heaven’s perspective it’s an upgrade.