Lord knows I have carried a basketful of stupid decisions and irrational choices in my lifetime which have determined my ‘prosperity’ status. But truly, my recollections from years past point simply to a contented life earned and learned by living a simple life.
We were not prosperous by today’s standards. But, in my eyes, we were the most affluent and blessed people on earth. Stuff and money did not matter. We did not compare to the Joneses. I never went to bed hungry, never walked to the school bus in rags, never slept without a blanket. Life was good. In retrospect, what made life good was the fact that just about everybody we knew lived as we did. We counted our blessings everyday, helped those neighbors who had fallen onto tough times, worshipped in a beautiful country church with other folks who knew the meaning of sharing, compassion, and humble faith. Oh, a few thought they were special and had the inside track to God, but most of us just accepted that maybe we didn’t really know all the answers and we tried to live a life that pleased family, friends, and neighbors and in doing so, hopefully pleased God.
Yes, we had abundant security even if we did not have money. We depended on each other knowing that the world would have to end before any one of us would abandon the other. Do we have that security today? Do you know your neighbors’ names or where they were born? Would your community feed you, house you, and clothe you if hard times hit or would you need to pitch a tent in the woods and eat bugs and lizards?
Compassion prevailed back then because we were a community of individuals who knew each house and family along the country roads leading to church, to the general store, to the Ford dealer, to the Grange hall, to the telephone office where an operator manned (or womanned) the switch board 24 hours a day, and to the undertaker’s house to which each of us would someday take a quiet journey. Everybody knew everybody else – Mrs. Johnson’s bouts with depression, the Mitchell children needing new shoes, the insurance agent’s penchant for Jack Daniels, and the milkman’s weekend trips to the city to walk on the wild side. We did our best to live right, but none of us were cocksure of eternity and none of us claimed to have the answers. Life was a mystery and we knew it was wise to leave it as such. In that simple, uncomplicated, unsophisticated bygone community of farmers, our lives had meaning. Life was precious and each member of that community had a sense of belonging.
Today’s times are troubling. The ones who proclaim to be spiritual leaders seem to be speaking from both sides of the mouth, their lives betray the words coming from the pulpits. Some houses of worship have become palatial with a senior pastor, junior pastor, assistant pastor and a staff of office help. Preaching hell and damnation for those who don’t adhere to their narrow litany of thou shalts and thou shalt nots, they go home to an equally impressive mansion with amenities and ‘stuff’ which most of the congregation cannot afford.
The gospel of prosperity and exclusion which I am hearing from numerous religious leaders nationwide starkly contrasts to the teachings of Jesus that I remember from my little country church years ago. Humility is lacking, compassion is lacking, love for every member of humanity is replaced by an attitude of tribalism. The strident position of excessively cocksure Christians evidenced today is alarming. “You are going to hell, but I’m not because I have discovered the path to salvation. I am a believer, you are lost.”
I don’t remember in my younger experience that Jesus taught any of those things which extreme-right fundamentalists are pumping from their pulpits. Maybe I wasn’t listening well enough, maybe I missed the spiritual boat just as I missed out on the prosperity boat. But, you know what? I would not trade the soul security and contentment which I learned in that country church attended by simple folks who practiced a gospel of humility and social justice. I would not trade the peace of mind I have for all the promises today’s prosperity preachers dangle from their pulpits of hypocrisy and intolerance.
Just a few thoughts from a simple man who still believes there is more to life than money.