One of the books on my nightstand right now is from the Christian Encounters Series by Thomas Nelson, a biography of St. Francis of Assisi. I am a slow reader to begin with, but every once in awhile, I find a book so challenging to me that it really takes a long time to work through it (ask Tozer–I took me about eight months to read The Knowledge of the Holy). This is one of them.
Quite frankly, I didn’t know much about St. Francis when I chose this book for the Booksneeze blogger book review program (which, if you’re not a part of, you need to be. Go on…I’ll wait while you sign up. What could be better than free books? Click the link.) I chose this book because St. Francis holds the remarkable distinction of being the hero of my hero. Big deal, right? Well, it is a big deal to me. I have few heroes–so few that I can count them on one hand. There just are not many people (dead or alive) who have risen to “hero” status for me. Maybe I’m hard to please. I like to think that I have exceptional standards.
Nonetheless, St. Francis of Assisi was Rich Mullins’ hero. Rich, not nearly as well known as he should have been, penned some of Christian music’s greatest songs, to include “Sing Your Praise to the Lord”–made popular by Amy Grant–and “Awesome God”–yes, that chorus you sing in church. Rich was so much more than an amazing songwriter and musician, but this blog is not about what makes Rich my hero.
As I was reading yesterday about St. Francis’ choice to pursue poverty (an enormous choice; we are to understand that his father was a successful businessman–a business that St. Francis was to grow into), I remembered something I’d read several years ago in The World As I Remember It: Through the Eyes of a Ragamuffin, which collected posthumously several of Rich’s previously published writings:
Before I got into this music business, I was determined to live a life of dire and grinding poverty. I remember my uncle saying, ‘Wow, you are so proud of being poor–what’s so great? You would do a lot better to be a little more industrious, a little more frugal. If you’re really concerned about the poor, becoming poor isn’t going to help them, it’s just going to ease your own conscience. If you’re really concerned about the poor, go out and make a fortune and spend it on them.’ (p. 140)
So who was right? Was St. Francis right in choosing to live a life of poverty, claiming that it would free us to know God more intimately? Or was Rich’s uncle right in saying that we would do better to give generously to alleviate poverty? Neither are easy options, to be sure, but is one more true or more right than the other?
And more importantly…if St. Francis was right, would anyone in America today have the guts to give it all up?
And even more importantly…would I?