Stuck in the System

We are captive to systems. Systems prevent us from critiquing consumerism or looking at our own prejudices with any sort of honesty.

Those angered over Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday shopping seem elitist and judgmental. It must be nice to sit back and have the pleasure of a day off to tell others they aren’t spending it correctly.

Likewise, those excited by the chase of a good deal reinforce an economic system that acknowledges, through “deals,” underhanded pricing and an addiction to excess. It must be nice to narrow our scope so much to ignore the real impact of our dollars.

So we cannot critique without seeming elitist (and being elitist), and we cannot enjoy the marketplace because it woos us into needing more at the expense of others.

We cannot talk about it well because the system has confused our language to the point that all we hear are attacks.

Seems like a nice alternative is to just point out that fact, pray for our addictions to elitism and consumerism, and have some coffee where I’ll both consume and critique…and stand where we all do: stuck in the system.

On Simple Living

Today, as we begin our Advent journey in 2022, the church honors Dorothy Day, Friend of the Poor and Antagonizer of the Privileged.

Born in Brooklyn just before the turn of the 20th Century, Dorothy worked for radical newspapers in her early years, mixing with the bohemian crowds of Greenwich Village.

She found herself living with a man she loved, and became pregnant in 1926. It was during this time that she experienced a life-changing conversion to the faith, and she made her home in Roman Catholicism.

She struggled to marry her internal passion for the Christ with her outer conviction to work for social justice. In 1933 she collaborated with fellow gadfly, Peter Maurin, to found the Catholic Worker Movement. Living simply and intentionally, this pseudo-monastic community took a vow to live collectively for the betterment of the poor and the outcast.

They set up hospitality houses in the city, collective living units in agricultural plots of land, and convened clarity councils to make decisions. They aimed to “create a new society within the shell of the old.”

St. Dorothy died in 1980. There is a story about her funeral that, as her casket was being carried through the street to the sanctuary for the funeral Mass, a person with severe mental illness pressed in on the crowd gathered around the procession. They made their way to the casket, and opened it, peering down upon Dorothy. The whole crowd stood and let it happen, knowing that it was precisely this human Dorothy had come to give her life to, and was ministering to them one more time.

St. Dorothy Day is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that simple living is a calling for some, but not all. Poverty should be a choice, by God, and not the result of unfair economic, social, or political circumstances. The church is called to lift those trapped in poverty and to invite those with much to embrace a simpler life for the sake of their neighbor.

-historical bits from Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

-icon written by Dan Smith