JP Grace: Creature comforts, Christianity a chancy mix
Among my collection of various states' tourism catalogs is one from South Carolina in a velvety black with the enchanting front-cover headline: "It's your life. Now fill it up."
Fill it up with what? With all the sybaritic pleasures that South Carolina resorts and restaurants have to offer, of course: undulating golf courses, pleasure boating, stylish hotel suites and multiple-course gourmet feasts. That's the invitation the catalog extends.
Spendiamo, as the Italians might say. "Let's go out and spend!"
Though our economy depends upon precisely this sort of allure, people's lavishing their lives with creature comforts and worldly pleasures, friends of mine in rustic Waynesburg, Ky., Christian missionaries Barry and Katherine White, periodically rail against just this sort of material focus.
In their latest newsletter, the Whites say that "sexual perversion, random violence or a bad economy" are not what cause them the greatest concern about present-day America, but rather our citizens' persistent "self focus." This is what I myself have sometimes referred to as "the sin of self-indulgence."
"Why not seek comfort or, as Barry calls it, 'the brick-house syndrome?'" the Whites ask in their newsletter.
They then respond to their own rhetorical question: "Because the things we have, the people around us, and ultimately ourselves become the idols that we worship. ... We become the center of our attention, rather than our Creator."
My wife Paula and I first met the Whites when they came looking to rent a house we own in Lavalette. They and their then-young children were just back stateside from a tour as medical missionaries in Togo, Africa, sent out by Grace Gospel Church in Huntington. Barry is an M.D. and Katherine is a medical illustrator.
After a year as our renters, they embarked upon another challenging mission, this time in rural Cambodia. They made great efforts to learn to communicate in Cambodian and remain so attached to their mission flock there that Barry makes almost annual pilgrimages back. What he has seen lately, however, has made him sad.
Cambodian Christian believers too are now "trying to fill (their lives) with the same stuff we have. Like eating junk food."
"Satan's ploy in the garden is just as effective now as it was then," the Whites write: "eat this and you shall be as gods."
"If someone were to measure how we spend the majority of our time, energy and riches (yes, we are all rich in the U.S.A.), where would God fit on the scale?" they ask poignantly, then add:
"Ask any Christian that you know whether he/she spends more time with God and His word or with the computer/internet, TV, or smart phone. Then you will understand where we are as a people. We are not battle ready. In fact, most of us don't even know we are in a (spiritual) war.
In support of which sentiment the Whites cite 2 Timothy 3:4:
"You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please Him who enlisted him as a soldier."
"Great heroes of the faith did not gain their reputation while on leave," the Whites continue.
"Their names were immortalized because they risked life and limb for their King's name's sake and glory. They had a true sense of His worth."
This is a tough sermon to consider, and not one that I am proposing based on my own life and experiences, but out of my genuine appreciation for a family that has gone the extra mile and beyond to proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ by putting their lives at risk. Not once, but over and over again.
John Patrick Grace is a former Vatican correspondent for The Associated Press and former religion editor for The Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record. He lives in eastern Cabell County.