As I was finishing up my notes for Saturday’s workshop, a new pope was announced. Many of my Catholic friends rejoiced on Facebook at his choice of Pope Francis I as his papal name, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who was known for his life of poverty, his love for creation, and his commitment to reconciliation and service. My friends shared their hopes that this name would both reflect and urge a new era for the Catholic church.
It made me think about just how much the values of simplicity and service are being called for in our society, in response to excesses and errors of the past. And sometimes simplicity involves greater sacrifice than excess, at least at first.
My other big passion in life – after Jesus and the arts – is sustainable farming. I know, that’s a weird one for a New Yorker. But I wasn’t always a New Yorker, and I probably won’t always be one; and there are plenty of us here with this passion anyway. My husband lives in fear that I’ll come home one day and announced that I’ve “bought the farm,” literally. Until then I plant my non-GMO tomato seeds in compostable paper cups in my Queens apartment, to eventually be planted in a small plot in a community garden.
I’m also a regular at the Union Square Greenmarket (a farmer’s market you’ve seen if you watch much Food Network). Although it’s pricier than a grocery store, I buy as much of my produce there as I can afford, because I believe in what those farmers are doing and I want to support them. I believe that my financial sacrifice will, in some small part, reap benefits for the environment, for society, and for my own heath. If enough people are able and willing to make those kinds of sacrifices, then the excesses of the past will be absorbed, and healthy, sustainable food production will become “the new normal.”
Not only do I sacrifice to help reverse my society’s excesses, but I also sacrifice to examine my own excesses. If I pay $4 for a single tomato, I eat it simply and observe it carefully. I don’t take it for granted, and I remember it then next time I’m tempted to pay the same $4 for a Big Mac, super-sized-fries, and jumbo Coke. I might be more engorged by the Extra Value Meal, but am I enriched by it?
I see something similar happening in the arts. We’re in the midst of a sea change in how the arts are being made and sold, and we don’t know yet what “the new normal” is going to look like. But it will definitely involve sacrifice, by many, to usher a new, more productive state into being. And I believe – very strongly – that the artists of the church have a lot to teach to the mainstream arts world about what sacrifice, service, and simplicity can look like.
The season of Lent is also about voluntary simplicity, in preparation to honor the sacrifice that took away the sins of the world. Would that all of our sacrifices had such power.
The arts world needs us right now. More than ever. And that’s exciting.
We’ll talk more about it Saturday.