I want to share one of the photos I took from this weekend on its own today. This one in particular is unique in that it is a statute on the arboretum grounds, and not covered in plants. Below is a shot of a St. Francis of Assisi, in a post where he is communing with a bird and holding a lamb under his arm. Off to my right, out of the shot, is a statue of a dog resting on a wall. St. Francis is the saint associated with nature, because in Francis’ life he truly communed with all of creation, and viewed every living thing as a brother/sister in Christ.
The presence of a statue of Francis is hardly out of place in a nature arboretum, where nature abounds. Yet, for me, what has always struck me about St. Francis is how real his faith was. For Francis, being a follower of God meant real life changes and real sacrifice for those in need. He would often give freely to the poor, despite his need to resort to begging to survive. For Francis, poverty isn’t a curse, but an expression of real holiness. His friars worked or begged for everything that they had, and made a real difference in the lives of those around them.
We can see Francis’ influence on our current Pope, who emphasizes the love and caring of all those in the world, no matter their situation. It’s this real and practical faith that drew people to St. Francis and draws people to our current Pope. It’s that real and practical faith that makes Francis appealing to me. Especially when contrasted with a recent segment from John Oliver’s show This Week Tonight, that talked about televangelism.
In that segment, John Oliver talks about Prosperity Gospel, which states that wealth is the sign of God’s favor towards you. If God is blessing you, then wealth will be the sign that you are following His way. Many televangelists talk about sending money to them in order to plant a seed by which to grow your personal wealth, and if you’re faithful it will all come back to you in abundance.
The problem with much of this Prosperity Gospel garbage is that it’s only found in Scripture through a perverse reading of a handful of verses. The support for it is so weak that most theologians don’t spend any time on it, because of how absurd it is. Yet, in America televangelists abound with messages of hopeful riches, if you would just send them a bit more money. It’s garbage, and hideous, and it’s unfortunately led many people into poverty or worse.
After seeing the St. Francis statue and listening to the John Oliver segment, I’m once again reminded of how much more true a practical and real faith is, than something that deals with temporal money. St. Francis believed that the world can be a good place, warts and all, and it didn’t require him taking money from people. It required love and compassion for everything that breathed, and it’s a model for how all of us can treat our fellow man, no matter our belief.