Elist Discussion: Voluntary Poverty

Home * Index of topics * Subscribe to Elist

Secondary topics: Sewing clothing -- grain grinders - composting newspapers - natural fibers - tithing vs. almsgiving - liturgical dressing - limiting wardrobes - economics (see Economics #2) - value of education - music - structures of sin - SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS

 

CET #14-15, July 2000

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: Mary Kay
Subject: Re: Voluntary Poverty--beautiful things

> There is a story about Dorothy Day that I heard. A poor woman was seen wearing a diamond ring. When someone protested that she should sell that ring, Dorothy objected, saying the even the poor deserve beautiful things.

reminds me of a proverb (Hindu I think): If you have two loaves of bread, give one to the poor, sell the other and buy a hyacinth to feed your soul.

Mary Kay

 

Date: Thu, 13 Jul 2000
From: Joyce Lively
Subject: [CET] Intro and Voluntary Poverty

Since I've only read the posts of others and not replied to any yet, let me introduce myself. I am married and the mother of ten - six girls and four boys who range in age from 1 year old to 19 years old. I homeschool those in elementary school, two are in our local diocesan high school, and two are college age. My oldest just completed her freshman year at the Univ. of Dallas, and my next one will enter Notre Dame in the fall. (My husband claims I have the distinction of being the only mother in South Jersey (perhaps the world) who cried when her son chose Notre Dame over Dallas.) Actually, I would have preferred TAC for both of them, but they wanted bigger schools. What a shame! Especially after reading the posts of TAC graduates! I am also the Pro-Life Coordinator for my diocese.
I think Christopher's suggestion to discuss voluntary poverty is an excellent one. I think it's difficult to know how to live out that in a family since one needs to provide a home, education, etc. for one's children. I'm often concerned, though, that I rationalize certain purchases as necessary for the good of the children and the family.
I'd like to read the sermons by St. John Chrysostom (and Dorothy Day's essay). What are they exactly?
In Christ,
Joyce Lively

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "Christopher Zehnder"
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

I know what you mean about rationalizing purchases -- though again we must stress the difficulty of applying in the concrete what we hold in the abstract. I don't think that "luxury" necessarily means anything beyond food and clothing. If it did, what of the life of culture which is so essential to the humanizing of individuals? The question is, how do we set a standard of judgement, according to what standard of judgement do we act? The Catholic Worker in Los Angeles protested Cardinal Mahony's 165 million dollar cathedral because the money could better be spent on the poor. I agree, in this case, with them, for the thing is a modernist building in meltdown. However, when I interviewed one of the Workers, he seemed to apply this standard to any church building. I agree that 165 million is perhaps too much money; a much more beautiful buidling could be built for much less. I agree that our first priority should be the poor and struggling families. However, I have a hard time accepting the notion that, in order to help the poor, we need to subject everyone to bauhaus ugliness. The poor need beauty. Our children need beauty. We need beauty. There is a story about Dorothy Day that I heard. A poor woman was seen wearing a diamond ring. When someone protested that she should sell that ring, Dorothy objected, saying the even the poor deserve beautiful things.

Still, we can be extravagant in our purchasing of beauty, or learning, or of other good things. According to what standard does one judge?

You can get a collection of Chrysostom's sermons called "On Wealth and Poverty" from St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. I don't have their addresss to hand, but I think they're on the web. As for Dorothy Day's writings -- Robert Waldrop would be a better source to ask about this.
Pax Christi,
Christopher Zehnder

 

Date: Thu, 13 Jul 2000
From: "Robert Waldrop"
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

Regarding the writings of Dorothy Day, http://www.catholicworker.org has a Dorothy Day Library on the Web which has a lot of her columns from the Catholic Worker newspaper. The Long Loneliness is her autobiography, and On Pilgrimage is a print edition of a collection of her CW columns.

Regarding voluntary poverty and families, cultivation of the virtue of prudence seems to me to be high on the list of priorities. What does one really need to have a healthy and happy lifestyle? Which is to say, it is more of an attitude and a way of life than any particular detail. The common aspect to all individual pursuits of voluntary poverty would be to rigorously examine one's expenditures -- what is bought, what it is used for, and who it is bought from -- and compare this with the expectations of the materialistic culture of death which surrounds us. If the world is saying, "Buy bigger and newer and more expensive cars," the solution might be to buy a used car, to drive one's existing car until the engine gives out (my own choice, at 307,000 miles and counting), or to use public transportation.

Another aspect is recovering/renewing the idea of the household as a place of economic activity -- e.g. growing your own food, making your own clothes. Sometimes it takes spending a bit of money to do this, but if I buy a good quality food processor or grain grinder or put together a setup to brew my own beer, that represents for me an "investment", not a "consumer purchase."

Developing the household economy includes recycling, first within the household e.g. kitchen waste, lawn trimmings and such go into the compost heap, which in turn feeds the gardens; glass containers are kept, never thrown away, but converted to new uses (ask me for a drink of water and you'll probably get it in a mayonaise jar). Newspapers have many uses before they end up in the compost. And so on and so forth.

Nobody gets there overnight, but like many virtues, the more you practice it, the better you get at it.
Robert Waldrop

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000 01:36:23 -0700 From: "Katherine Zehnder"
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

Robert,
Speaking of grain grinders, what is a good one to get? We bought a heavy metal one from Lehman's years ago (I think it was their cheapest). I haven't used it for a while because it took so much effort to grind enough for 2 loaves of bread (Christopher had to crank it for me) and it had to be ground twice. And since we moved to our present abode, we haven't figured out anyplace sturdy enough to clamp it down. Are there any better brands? I would love one of those European models Lehamn's sells, but I think it costs as much as our van is worth!

> (ask me for a drink of water and you'll probably get it in a > mayonaise jar).
We have a nice matched set of peanut butter jars for drinking purposes.

>Newspapers have many uses before they end up in the compost.
I've never heard of putting newspapers in the compost. How is this done? What about the ink, etc.? Could the same be done with egg cartons?
Pax, Katherine Z

 

Date: Thu, 13 Jul 2000
From: "Chris Ryland"
Subject: Re: Voluntary Poverty

I think you've hit the nail on the head, Robert. Anything more specific about how to live poverty runs the same risk of being too specific about child spacing (though, personally, I've think serious reasons to use NFP are few and far between for most ordinary people ;-).
Cheers!
Chris Ryland

 

Date: Thu, 13 Jul 2000
From: "Andrew and Abigail Tardiff"
Subject: Re: Voluntary Poverty

You know what bugs me--making clothes for us is usually extravagant. Fabric is often more expensive than cheap new clothes, and always more expensive than thrift-store clothes (and so many families have decided not to have more children, that we almost never have to buy thrift-store clothes--clothes come to our doorstep in garbage bags for free).
I think it's probably more important to cultivate a whole life-attitude of thrift and respect for resources than it is to agonize over every purchase. I love Chris' comparison with the problem of figuring out what constitutes a "serious reason" for using NFP! What is extravagant for you might be a true emotional need for me. Like this computer and the email access it gives me...well, OK, maybe that's stretching it. Or maybe not.
Abigail

 

Date: Thu, 13 Jul 2000
From: "Andrew Abela
Subject: Re: Voluntary Poverty

I'm really happy with where this discussion is going; this is exactly what I hoped to get from a C&T email group.
I do think that living poverty will vary as circumstances vary. I also find, however, that my susceptibility to scruples is great, although admittedly exceeded only by my sucsceptibility to rationalization. As a result I do think that discussion of explicit trade-offs that people have made would be useful.

One particular challenge, I suspect, is brought about by mass production. Should we feel guilty for buying more expensive clothes when cheap, polyester stuff is available? To Christopher's point, beauty is important, and not just functionality.

One standard we try to use to judge whether we are being extravagant is what we call "authenticity" of materials and workmanship. We recently shopped around for a large kitchen table. After much search, we spent quite a bit of money on a beautful oak table and a number of chairs, with expansion leaves so that it will seat as many children as God will send us. We could have spent alot less on something more mass produced and with artificial materials, but I don't think that it is rationalization to argue that our kitchen will give greater glory to God with this table. And we'll be able to hand it on to our children (one of them, at least).

Similarly, with clothes we try to buy all natural stuff (always at discount stores), although we too have been beneficiaries of many hand-me-downs. But if you can afford the time to sew and the money to buy fabric, isn't it just better for children to wear fabrics that come from God's earth and the hands of their mother, than from the great polyester tree in the industrial estate? Kathleen doesn't sew, but she loves to cook. When we can afford it, she buys better quality food and cooks a sumptuous meal, especially on a feast day. I think living poverty means feasting and fasting both, in due measure and at the right times.

Thoughts?

Andrew Abela

 

Date: Thu, 13 Jul 2000
From: "Robert Waldrop"
Subject: Re: Voluntary Poverty

>Speaking of grain grinders, what is a good one to get? We bought a heavy metal one from Lehman's years ago (I think it was their cheapest). I haven't used it for a while because it took so much effort to grind enough for 2 loaves of bread.
Sounds like a Corona, which is what I have, bought mine at a yard sale (eek, probably in 1980 or so), and yes, generally I have to grind the grain twice to get a nice fine flour. I'm planning on growing some winter wheat this year, and thinking that the occasion would be a nice time to get a better mill, one of those with the larger wheel to make hand grinding easier. Somewhere I have an archive of an email discussion regarding the various kinds of mills, I will dig it out and see what the conclusion was as the "best to buy".

>We have a nice matched set of peanut butter jars for drinking purposes.
There is a local brand of jelly here (Griffins) which sells its product in a drinking glass. It's usually the price leader, so I also have a collection of those.

> >I've never heard of putting newspapers in the compost. How is this done? What about the ink, etc.? Could the same be done with egg cartons?
I don't compost pages with colored inks, but the black and white pages get torn into strips and mixed with the rest of the compost. I learned this from an organic gardener, and also have had newsprint suggested as a starter for a worm bin by many people, including the guy I get my worms from around here who is a strict organic gardener. He has a Community Supported Agriculture produce garden that supplies about 35 shares each year. . . . CSA is where families pay X amount a week and get a bag of veggies each week, usually (in this area anyway) there is a discount for paying in advance at the beginning of the season.
Robert Waldrop

 

Date: Thu, 13 Jul 2000
From: "Robert Waldrop"
Subject: Re: Voluntary Poverty

>One particular challenge, I suspect, is brought about by mass production. Should we feel guilty for buying more expensive clothes when cheap, polyester stuff is available? To Christopher's point, beauty is important, and not just functionality.
But think of all the polyesters that must die to make that cheap stuff! Seriously, when it comes to voluntary poverty, it seems to me that "price ain't everything." If something is really cheap, there may be some moral issues that should be considered. E.g., where was it made, were the workers paid a just wage, are there additional costs that have been "externalized" (that is, not reflected in the price because they are evaded by the manufacturer/distributor). In the case of polyesters, this could include the pollution involved in manufacturing the artificial fiber.

> >One standard we try to use to judge whether we are being extravagant is what we call "authenticity" of materials and workmanship. . . We could have spent alot less on something more mass produced and with artificial materials, but I don't think that it is rationalization to argue that our kitchen will give greater glory to God with this table. And we'll be able to hand it on to our children (one of them, at least).
I agree with your reasoning here. As noted in my original post, purchases may be for "consumer items" or may be for what amounts to an investment in the household economy. One investment I hope to make before this year is out is a large pressure canner. If I can find one at a garage sale, great, but if not, I think the investment would be worth it.

> I think it's probably more important to cultivate a whole life-attitude of thrift and respect for resources than it is to agonize over every purchase.
And the more that one does this, the easier it is to make good choices, quickly even, regarding purchases. Shopping with prudence (and Catholic morality) is not a skill that can be learned over night. But I think it is an essential part of the journey to a "right prosperity", justly earned. Shopping is not only an individual activity, it relates to the community, in part through the economics of it. Our shopping choices are votes that send signals to market actors. As we show our desire for a better and more moral marketplace by putting our money where our morality is, we contribute to the common good.

Regarding making your own clothes, I keep thinking about this, we've even acquired 2 sewing machines, and a respectable library of books and magazines on sewing and quilting. Clothes could be made in house, or clothes could be bought from a local co-op making clothing, if there was such a thing. I speculate rather continually about microenterprises, one of the things I hope our CW house eventually does is start some microenterprise coops -- in particular, growing organic vegetables and making clothes and quilts. In an earlier age, somebody said that the world needed a good five cent cigar. I'd be satisfied with a 25 dollar shirt made by a local craftsperson that wouldn't fall apart after four or five washings. We're thinking that one way to get started would be to use our sewing machines to open a "sewing room", fixed up with all the necessaries, including a quilting frame, and then make that space available to people who wanted to sew or make a quilt but didn't have the machines or other where-with-all. Anyone know who the patron saint of sewing is?

Robert Waldrop

 

You could start with Dorcas (Tabitha) in the book of Acts--who was raised from the dead so she could continue making clothes for the poor!
Abigail

Thanks for the excellent suggestion, Acts 9:36-43, Peter raises Tabitha/Dorcas. . . "all the widows came to him (Peter) weeping and showing him the tunics and cloaks that Dorcas had made while she was with them."

St. Dorcas Sewing Room? St. Tabitha of Joppa Sewing Circle? Guild of St. Dorcas? What name would Chesterton suggest. . . Along the same train of thought. . . does anyone know where you can get patterns for vestments?
Robert Waldrop

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "Christopher Zehnder"
Subject: Re: Voluntary Poverty

Andrew Abela wrote: > ...I think living poverty means feasting and fasting both, in due measure and at the right times.
Andrew offers here some standards of judgement, which I think are important. Since beauty is important, and the experience of nature is important, it would not necessarily be against the spirit of poverty to spend more money on beautiful things or things that enhance our exprience of nature. But even here there is a lack of clarity, because there are degrees of beauty. Last year I bought a violin for $350. It has a pleasant sound and is fit to play not only fiddle music, but fine music. However, it is not as fine an instrument as another that may cost $500, or $1000. Now, a more expensive violin would provide a heightened experience of beauty (assuming expertise on the part of the player) -- but does that mean I am justified in buying, it when others live barely at subsistence level? The answer to this question might depend on whether or not I were a professional violinist --then I might be able to justify a $30,000 violin!

What I am getting at is that we have to seek a definition of luxury and a definition of necessity, because it seems that one man's luxury is another man's necessity. How do we judge what is necessity and what is luxury? I think Robert Waldrop's suggestion that we gauge ourselves by the culture of death is partially helpful, because we have to be a sign of contradiction in our acquisitive world; the standard, however, is incomplete because it is a negative standard. The standard of a healthy and happy lifestyle is closer and suggests the answer; if we can determine what characterizes a happy and healthy lifestyle, then we can perhaps discover what is necessary to achieve that and what is mere luxury. This is a harder task than it seems, for we may think we can give a kind of pat religious answer. Yet, since grace build upon nature, there is a natural happiness and health that must be considered. What constitutes this happy and healthy life?

> If something is really cheap, there may be some moral issues that should be considered. In the case of polyesters, this could include the pollution involved in manufacturing the artificial fiber.

Good point. Another thing to consider is what makes for a happy and healthy life for others, not just ourselves.
Pax Christi
Christopher Zehnder

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: Joyce Lively
Subject: voluntary poverty

Dear Abigail,
I don't know how old your children are, but for me, one of the real advantages of sewing my older daughters' clothing is being able to make them something stylish (very important to teenage girls!) and modest (very important to mom and dad). I find it difficult to find new clothing (either cheap or expensive) for them that I'd allow them to wear out of the house.

Also have you looked for warehouse-type fabric stores? There's one in Philadelphia that has quite a few bargains (if you don't mind wading through the junk).

In Christ,
Joyce Lively

Thanks, Joyce. I have made some special things which mean a lot to my girls--Easter dresses to be handed down and the like. I have sewn wonderful Christmas presents--a teepee, bed curtains with pockets, cloth panels for a giant tinker-toy-like system my husband made. And knowing how to sew is a great protection from being at the mercy of the fashions--you can hold back the tide of the rising hem-line, for example. Or make a maternity dress that actually covers the knees of a tall woman.

Abigail

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: Steve [email protected]
Subject: Re: Voluntary Poverty

Robert:
I realize this is somewhat peripheral to the discussion, but since you bring it up... When I got married I was living in a factory town in the Shenandoah Valley in 1984, working as an editor for a textile technology institute. This was during the time when heavy industry in this country was shrinking rather painfully, particularly in textiles. That year, the institute's abstracting service was mentioning the closure (in my home town, no less) of the U.S.' last factory that made corduroy-type fabrics. All that "cheap" polyester stuff is made from petroleum feedstocks manufactured overseas, and it's cheap because it's made in places like Indonesia by the ton.

Acrylics are even worse: there are several cyanotic byproducts during the manufacturing process. Rayon is only marginally better: chemically it's the same as cotton, but it's manufactured from extruded wood pulp. I believe natural fabrics are better too, but even then there's a natural dimension: about 10 years ago it came to the world's attention that the Russians has practically ruined the Aral Sea by diverting the rivers that fed it in order to grow cheap cotton.

Steve Murdock

It's not peripheral to the discussion at all. But for me, it's totally discouraging. Why bother to try to live responsibly when all the staples of life are tainted? Since I'm not energetic enough to head for the hills, my reaction to this sort of information is to head for MacDonald's.

Abigail

 

Abigail,

You are right - it is depressing. If Adam hadn't eaten that apple...

There is a scripture passage that says something like we sin not knowing we do so (some one correct me - my ex-protestant husband is not here to quote me the verse). I sometimes think this pertains to the structure of sin JPII talks of. One may be unaware that the product he buys is produced through the explotation of others and contributes to injustice, but in some way the buyer is tainted, although not personally guilty of a sin. In some instances, even if you know of the injustice, you have no choice but to buy it because no one else produces it. So one is participating in a sinful system, but I don't know how much personal guilt is attributed to the buyer. You have to do the best you can.

No one said is was easy to be a Christian. Bummer.

Katherine Z.

 

Anyone following the story of José Bové ("Le Monde n'est pas une Marchandise"), the Roquefort maker who trashed the McDonald's in France? I think the guy's onto something -- he referred to food from places like McDo's as "food from nowhere," provenance unknown.

John Lapham

 

From: "Chris Ryland"
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

Christopher--
It may be obvious, but one point I haven't heard people say is that what's a luxury and what isn't depends partly on your standard of living. In God's great plan, there are various standards of living, and we shouldn't despise the wealthy any more than we should despise the poor. (And, of course, the wealthy person should be encouraged to be even overly generous with his God-given resources, just as the poor should be generous with the same.) So, for someone struggling to keep food on the table, a $1500 violin might well be a foolish luxury, but for someone who has the basics covered (and is being generous by tithing and almsgiving) and whose child would like to seriously pursue violin, it may well not be.

BTW, in the past, I've thought we were doing pretty well to tithe (10% of net? gross? I've started to realize it's probably gross, even though a huge chunk is taken by taxes), but then at some point it hit me that tithing was the *bare minimum*, and that almsgiving would come after tithing (and should hurt). Ouch.

Cheers!
Chris Ryland

 

Sent: Friday, July 14, 2000
From: Christopher Zehnder
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

>It may be obvious, but one point I haven't heard people say is that what's a luxury and what isn't depends partly on your standard of living.

In Rerum Novarum necessity is defined is that which is necessary for life, of course, but also that which the needed to maintain one's state in life. This seems pretty close to what you said, above. (I remember a CET article on this which claimed that later popes further refined this position; I shall look it up later)

In older times folks were told to live within their state. Today, few acknowledge that they have a place or a state, so most assume that they should have what everyone else has -- thus they will go into deep debt to attain what belongs to those with more means.

>So, for someone struggling to keep food on the table, a $1500 violin might well be a foolish luxury, but for someone who has the basics covered (and is being generous by tithing and almsgiving) and whose child would like to >seriously pursue violin, it may well not be.
But mustn't there be a further standard? Mightn't I buy items which are nothing more than rank luxuries, and still stay well within my budget?

Pax Christi,
Christopher Zehnder

 

From: "Chris Ryland"
Subject:Voluntary Poverty

Yes, I suppose, but how to define such a standard? E.g., even if I could afford it (which I can't ;-), I probably shouldn't buy a Rolls for transportation, because of the ostentation value (even though it's probably a good investment--maintained, it'll run for 50 years). But what about a 10-year-old Mercedes diesel sedan or an equivalent Audi 5000 for a few thousand? (Wonderful machines, will last forever if maintained.)
I'm sure you could come up with things which everyone would agree are "rank" luxuries, but below some obvious threshold, it would really depend on a lot of factors. I suppose it's not really any more complex to decode than the basic message of Gospel, though: be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. (What does that mean in my life, exactly?)

Cheers!
Chris Ryland, President

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: Regina Schmiedicke
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

Let me just chime in on simplicity and clothing -- I agree with Abagail's reflections on "feasting and fasting." With clothing our family adheres to a somewhat strict-somewhat loose discipline. Some of you know this from my articles.

1. All girls (including me) wear dresses because it just seems more fitting to me and because I think they look more attractive in them (I once put jeans with pink bows on my little girl and was surprised at how tubby she seemed in them). I'm not ruling out pants for always but when my babies seemed adept at crawling, running, climbing stairs (and trees) in long skirts, I kept them in dresses.

2. No child ever wears clothing with advertisements on them -- whether they be oversized brand name tags or silkscreened bears wearing the company's logos. I don't care how good the company is. My husband's company has to pay for advertising. Why should we pay someone else for the privilege of advertising their stuff? Cartoon animals are similarly banned -- I find them offensive. I just made a concession, allowing Caleb to wear a t-shirt from the Washington Zoo. My husband wears pro-life t-shirts but I'm just not a t-shirt person (the only ones I have are from our family reunion).

3. I make my own clothes which is more expensive (I supplement with finds from the thrift store and with castoffs from relatives). I decided a long time ago that the purpose of sewing is not to save expense (at least not initially) but to get what you want. It's hard to find pretty, modest, classic dresses these days and too often I would get frustrated. I would love to help someone found a sewing co-op, but there's too much else going on these days.

4. I have occasionally bought expensive nursing clothes when I was too tired to sew. I've also bought good dresses on sale at Kmart during a fit of pregnancy frustration.

5. That's what I do for beauty -- for simplicity I started wearing liturgical colors on the proper days. I still mostly do. My wardrobe has grown beyond seven dresses or even seven jumpers (my article in C&T way back when). It has helped wonderfully to limit my kid's wardrobe. Their wardrobe is a row of pegs on the wall (my two oldest share a room) and nine baskets on a tool shelf ($20 at the home improvement warehouse, stained & varnished) . There are baskets for underwear, socks, and nightwear. Caleb has a basket of pants/shorts, Rose has a basket of shorts (necessity I think for toddlers in dresses). Then there is a basket each for green shirts, blue shirts, white/pink/yellow/or gray shirts, purple/black shirts, and red shirts, for each of the liturgical colors (ordinary time, Marian, feast/Easter days, Lent, martyr/Pentecost like I said in my article). The shirts are all 100% cotton plain t-shirts or turtlenecks, gotten from garage sales, thrift stores, etc. I pick them up whenever I see them and give away every other kind. Generally I have a good supply of each color. Since they're about the same age I store them all together. Each child has one Sunday outfit which they wear only to church and take off right afterwards. On the pegs Rose has her jumpers. I make these out of cotton from the fabric store and the prints match the colors of the shirts, generally -- I find the prints hide messes better. If I find dresses at the thrift store I keep those two -- mainly plain dresses in liturgically correct colors.

So far it's been a good system for limiting clothes. Like another mom who came in, the problem in my family (growing up) was not enough clothes but too many, since we were constantly being given clothes by people. In America I think the housewife's main problem is how to set up distinct channels for getting rid of excess material and clutter that constantly flows into our homes thanks to our oversaturated materialist society. Saying, "No thank you" is a good habit to start with.
Peace and good
Regina

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "Chris Ryland"
Subject: Volutary Poverty

Regina-- Yes, we've always been "dresses/skirts/jumpers only" for girls/women, since the beginning of our marriage (lo, these 18+ years ago). My wife's intuition was always that it's more feminine (and also a by-blow to the unisex drive in society). I guess we've made very rare exceptions such as for horseback riding, when the kids were younger.

As Alice von Hildebrand put it (you should hear her tapes on the feminine gifts--excellent), What do men do when they want to express solemnity and serious purpose? Put on a dress, of course! (Judges, priests, scholars, etc.)

But another of my wife's intuitions (which which I agree wholeheartedly) is that "T-shirts are underwear". ;-) (We're thinking of having a bumper sticker made, but we're not bumper sticker people. "Bumper stickers are litter." ;-) When did a T-shirt become acceptable as outerwear? Of course, people dress them up with pockets and heavy-duty cotton and wild colors and writing, but they're still underwear. Of course, try to tell that to a 16-year-old son (along with his silly baseball cap--another abomination).

Any logos/writing on clothing is verboten; I agree wholeheartedly.
Cheers!
Chris Ryland,

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "Michael Smith"
Subject: Economics and voluntary poverty

Hi, all:

I just couldn't remain silent any longer.

Several points on economics: 1. Did Dorothy Day really say that to enjoy luxury was to steal from the poor? If so she was an idiot. If she is made a saint will I have to retract my words and consider all her beliefs infallible? Try this: Imagine making a million dollars (legally, morally) wihout helping anyone. A rich man built a huge mansion near here in the depths of the Great Depression. It kept many families busy working -- and well fed-- for about three years.

2. How could she justify wearing an expensive ring -- using the excuse that Christ was annointed with expensive oil. Was she Christ?

3. Was she an anarchist? If so, she violated Church teachings which tell us government is natural and good.

4. Is not voluntary poverty made possible by all the huge investment per worker made possible by the evil capitalist system--the absence of which would make everyone involuntarily poor?

5. Name the countries in which the lack of an industrial base makes everyone well fed?

6. In a fixed pie world wherein your earning/having more wealth comes only at my expense, then you should stop trying to improve your mind for it is stealing brain cells from mine.

7. If equality of material goods is more important than raising everyone's standard of living then as long as you have any food to eat you are stealing from the starving--and should stop.

8. Rather than only worry about the poor shouldn't we all try to expand economies 'round the world -- including overturning dictatorships that prevent it -- so that people will have the incentive to invest in agriculture, manufacturing, etc?

9. Shouldn't all this scrupulosity be put to use in improving our understanding of economics -- so that we will learn to think rather than only "feel" about what really works and what doesn't -- like socialism.

10. And, last but not least, please read Hannah Arendt's book on Revolution. In it she shows how pity for the poor led to the slaughter that the French Revolution became. True compassion is not led by the emotions but is clear headed and tough minded. Feeling sorry will not help the poor. Contrary wise it may lead to a blood bath. We are not immune, you know. The free market is the only solution to poverty. It has been proven that socialism leads to poverty -- and war. We unwittingly fall into the socialist trap when we adopt their arguments and concepts dressed up in "nice" sounding terms. The Church has, after all, condemned socialism.

God bless you all,
Michael H. Smith

(to see the points in this email continued, see Economics 2)

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: Mark Hayden
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

I believe it is in Cent. Annus that the term "to be and to grow" rather than "to have and enjoy," is a good starting point for looking at what is luxury and what isn't .

I use a good Austrian scythe from Marugg, rather then a cheap American one. Luxury? I don't think so because I find it easier to meditate when I am using a good tool.

We have a Diamant grinder. Expensive, yes. But what a joy to grind wheat with that, instead of a small wheel grinder (We went in with several families and bought 12 of them which brought down the price since we got it directly from a distributor rather than Lehmans).

I use English Bulldog pitchforks because they are truly a joy to use. Some may call this a luxury, but I believe it helps me to "be and to grow".

Mark

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "Andrew and Abigail Tardiff"
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

Not in the spirit of "our neighbors are better than yours," but in the spirit of, "look! The world's a better place than you think!":

Across the street from us lives a retired lady who spends hours a day working on her lawn. She clips the edges with scissors, and makes little wishing well displays, and waters and waters. With eight kids here (three of them belong to a family who lives with us), our lawn is decorated with dirt patches and bicycles and the like. I don't even try to keep it neat.

One day I apologized, saying that she puts so much work into making her lawn look nice that it must be hard for her to look at our mess. She answered, with great sincerity, "Oh, no! Your yard looks beautiful to me, because all the toys and bikes on it are a sign of life and happy children."

I think that must be the nicest thing anyone ever said to me. God bless you, Etta.

(BTW, don't knock people who buy new cars--where else would we get all the good used ones?!)

I'm not against buying new cars. Just against loving them. I mean I can understand someone being excessively attached to a dog or cat (Has anyone ever read Waugh's The Loved One?) - they are alive, but a car??

Katherine Z

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "Andrew and Abigail Tardiff"
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

> 1. Did Dorothy Day really say that to enjoy luxury was to steal from the poor? If so she was an idiot.

CCC no. 2445: "Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use..."; no. 2446: "St. John Chrysostom vigorously recalls this: 'Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. the goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.'"

> 9. Shouldn't all this scrupulosity be put to use in improving our understanding of economics -- so that we will learn to think rather than only "feel" about what really works and what doesn't -- like socialism.

In my case, at least, that's like saying, "shouldn't all those left-overs in your refrigerator be put to use in feeding the third world?" We'd need a miracle along the lines of the multiplication of the loaves, only on a larger scale.

> So, for someone struggling to keep food on the table, a $1500 violin might well be a foolish luxury, but for someone who has the basics covered (and is being generous by tithing and almsgiving) and whose child would like to seriously pursue violin, it may well not be.

OK, so this is my question: why is it OK to spend the money that way when your own children aren't starving, even though other people's are?

I'm not saying for sure it's wrong. There's something here I'm not understanding. If I refused to help the starving family at my door so that I could buy the violin, that would be wrong. In fact, if I refused to help the starving family at my door so that I could buy ice cream for my children, that would be wrong too, wouldn't it?

But my intuition thinks that it's not wrong to ignore the starving family in Haiti so that I can buy my family ice cream. Is my intuition misleading me here, or is the proximity of the poor person really relevant?

Abigail

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: Mark Hayden
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

Here was the quote I was looking for from Cent. Annus

#36 It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards "having" rather than "being," and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.(75)

It is therefore necessary to create lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments.

Mark

Thanks, Mark. A goal we can actually live up to. Did you know that in Confucian society, education was considered more important than wealth? (It brought more influence, which is kinda disappointing, but it makes ya think nonetheless.) This from the same people who brought you "Give a man a fish and he has food for a day; teach him to fish and he has food for a lifetime."

Every now and then we should stop and think, "What can I accomplish all by myself?" I mean, with just my hands and what's in my head, and without tools, vehicles, money, influence, etc.

Steve Murdock

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "John Lapham"
Subject: education was considered

Regarding Confucian beliefs that education was considered more important than wealth recalls to mind a commencement address made by Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen at Seattle University in 1988. He told the graduates that they were moving into a new realm in American society by having graduated from the university and being granted a diploma. He said that if sometime in the future they find themselves standing in social gatherings with millionaires who didn't finish college it will be the millionaires that feel envy.

If I got the gist of what Hunthausen was suggesting it was that here in America finishing college and being granted a degree is a form of social cachet which cannot equaled in social cachet by those having a certain quantity of money. However, the Confucians were referring to education rather than to a diploma. What Hunthausen seemed to be addressing was the social value of a college diploma rather than the social value of being educated. The diploma symbolizes the education and it is the fetish value of the diploma which translates into social cachet.
In Him,
John L.

Very interesting. A situation I encounter almost daily amongst the 20-somethings with whom I work is that of people who are sharply focussed on some technical expertise... these are relatively well-educated, middle-class men and women, college-educated, and usually very intelligent, who don't habitually read and haven't travelled. They are capable of amazing technical feats but think history is something that happened to other people.

Steve Murdock

John,

The Confucion idea of the value of education - learning how to think, rather than jumping through hoops to receive a diploma is exactly why I value my TAC education so highly. I wouldn't trade it for Bill Gates' fortune or a diploma from Yale. This kind of liberal arts education is truly an equalizer too - everyone follows the same course of study, everyone has to begin as a freshman, everyone can participate in the discussion, no one is turned away because of financial need, there are no honor rolls. Education is viewed as a common good. Not many people have heard of Thomas Aquinas College, but I received a gift of inestimable price there.

Pax,
Katherine

Katherine,

The TAC education model reminds me somewhat of the style of education I received at Antioch, i.e. very holistic and experiential rather than antiseptic and "credits" driven. On the other hand all of us there at Antioch were paper chasing. We weren't just in it for the common good. Antioch has embraced the post-modern paradigms not the Aquinine. They worship Gaia not Christ.

In Him,

John

 

Date: Sat, 15 Jul 2000
From: Katherine Zehnder
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

> > But my intuition thinks that it's not wrong to ignore the starving family in Haiti so that I can buy my family ice cream.

Abigail,

I think, using this example, it woul be extravagant to have something like ice cream everyday, but on occasion for a special treat or celebration, it wouldn't be. Even in the Tightwad Gazette the Frugal Zealot makes the point that having these kind of things all the time raises the level of where one can find simple pleasure. If the kids have a sundae everyday, soon it becomes ordinary, then to get a bigger "wow factor" they've got to have Fantastic Double Sundaes and so on...

You can see this happening with all "consumer" (I hate that word) products...bigger, more, faster, over the edge. Simple is better for ourselves. It keeps our wants in check and then we can attend to the needs of others.

Pax,
Katherine

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "John Lapham"
Subject: Re: Voluntary Poverty

Katherine,

I had never heard of the expression, "the structure of sin" before? Or if I have I forgot. Was JP II referring to sin in terms of a system which includes acts, consequences and the sinful state?

John

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
F rom: "Chris Ryland"
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

There are a lot of levels to the phrase the "structure of sin."

I think the Pope is referring to sin which has been incarnated in evil social structures.

Another level that amazed me when I discovered it (or was made aware of it) in the incredible book "Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth" (everyone should own and read it, in order to deal effectively with this question in the modern world) is the fact that sinful behavior (just like any behavior) actually forms and builds up neural pathways in the brain. So one of the "structures of sin" is in fact small physical highways of connected cells in your head. (Virtues build up just the same.)

That's what makes it so hard for people (us) to overcome addictions--their (our) behavior is normally channelled down these highways *in a physical sense,* and so breaking an addictive behavior requires stupendous physical effort as well as moral.

(This also relates to language learning, which is so easy when you're young, and takes place in the same area of the brain, no matter how many languages are involved. After 10 or so, new language acquisition requires actually forming a new language area in another part of the brain, which is damned hard work. ;-)

Cheers!
Chris Ryland

 

Chris,

Thank you for the unexpected. I was thinking in terms of Whole Systems Sin Structures and you performed a nice hat trick by seguing into the world of Sin qua Dianetics. I live and learn.

In Him,
John

Sollicitudo rei socialis,
http://www.ewtn.com/library/ENCYC/JP2SOCIA.HTM
and RECONCILIATIO ET PAENITENTIA
http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2RECON.htm
both have discussions of structures of sin.

>I was thinking in terms of Whole Systems Sin Structures. . .
This seems to me to be a pretty apt description. Dorothy and Peter used to talk about creating a society where it was easier to be good, which suggests they envision structures -- systems -- of goodness and beauty. Structures of sin in the modern world would be systems that encourage, facilitate, organize, and praise sin.

Robert Waldrop

Robert,

I am completely enthralled by this thread because I am sold on the concept that the neural pathways in the brain become developed much as muscles become developed. Mercifully we are not so completely deterministic that we cannot walk backwards along a bad trail and live to forge a new one. To quote William Irwin Thompson, "We lay down a path by walking."

What this neural pathway hypothesis points towards is the means for creating strutures for virtue in our own minds so that we can then venure outward to the creation of systems of virtue, i.e. whole systems virtue. Skeptics might hoot at such a concept but having involved myself in the Christian community far more these past five years than at any other time in my life I feel I can attest to the fact that small Christian communities are examples of centers for experiences in whole systems virtue. But these systems couldn't begin to thrive and work if we haven't layed down the proper paths in our own minds first. We can't begin to save the world until we have succeeded in saving ourselves.
In Him,
John

 

Date: Sat, 15 Jul 2000
From: "Christopher Zehnder"
Subject: Voluntary Poverty

Chris,

Have you ever heard Andrew Pudewa talk on the effect of music on the brain? I heard him recently at a homeschooling conference and he was fascinating. He brought up all the different studies that show that listening to rock music or any kind of repetitive sounds without complex variety makes one stupid. They actually examined the brains of mice exposed to this music and he showed us diagrams of how they looked. It was amazing. He showed us how good music (mostly making it) is vitally connected to language development and hence reasoning development, not just some nice rounding out of your children's education. Musical aptitude is usual set by the age of nine. It is much easier to learn to play an instrument before nine and those who start earlier increase their aptitude.

Your neural pathways and sin discussion reminded me of this.

Katherine Z

Yes, I've heard of such things, and I fervently hope we haven't waited too long with some of our kids on music education. ;-) Cheers!
Chris Ryland

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "John Lapham"
Subject: Structures of Sin

Robert,
SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS is a compelling document that addresses our modern situation as Christians in a doctrinally sound way while analyzing the structures of sin which favor evil behavior in members of society. Our plight is no different than that of our Christian brothers and sisters of 1900 years ago but documents written then may not seem nearly as relevant in addressing our struggles as does Sollictudo Rei Socialis. Readers looking for a quick flyby inside of this document need only download it as a word document and search for "structures of sin"

The first hit will land the reader on page 15. It is an interesting way of looking at our world through the eyes of JP II. Again, thanks for the link. It was a rare opportunity to see the world through new eyes. In Him, John

 

Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000
From: "Robert Waldrop"
Subject: Re: Systems of virute

John,

I know very little of the practical mechanics of how thinking happens, but perhaps what you are talking about is part of the miracle of prayer, meditation, and contemplation. There is a meditation discipline/charism in Russian Orthodoxy that involves repeating the short prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Lately I have been praying this prayer a lot, e.g., today I spent about 4 hours running around doing errands in my non-air conditioned car as the heat index rose towards 110. I found that chanting this prayer helped keep me peaceful, centered, and non-harassed, even in the heat and the busy-ness of the errands.

And perhaps we don't so much walk backwards from some negative pathways as we do sprout new paths, maybe that's part of the miracle of grace, a negative thought pathway becoming a beautiful and virtuous journey.

I always try to remember that being saved is a process, a journey, not a one-time event. Around here it's not uncommon to be asked, "Are you saved?" Or, "Have you been born again?" I always try to answer something like, "I am being saved," or "I am being born again every day."

Robert Waldrop