Theology of Simplicity

A Theology of Simplicity: Challenges of Simple Lifestyle and Affordable

and Dignified Funerals

“Listen to this, you who rob the poor and trample the needy! You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over and the religious festival to end so you can get back to cheating the helpless. You measure out your grain in false measures and weigh it out on dishonest scales. And you mix the wheat you sell with chaff swept from the floor! Then you enslave the poor for a debt of one piece of silver or a pair of sandals” (Amos 8: 4 – 6 New Living Translation)

Generally what the prophet Amos is saying about how business was carried out during his time is relevant to our time. He laments the fact that it is the poor who suffer the results of unfair business dealings. In our time the funerals and burials of our loved ones have been turned into unfair business deals. The grieving families are being strained by unnecessary expensive funerals. The funeral houses are proliferating and prospering. The poor are ripped off unjustly.

Aim of this Theology of Simplicity and Promotion of Eco-coffins

The aim of this Theology of Simplicity and promotion of Eco-coffins is to encourage communities to pursue a simple lifestyle and will for burial with simplicity and dignity using an eco-coffin. Expensive funerals with the consequence of often huge burdens of debt are discouraged. Instead, burials within the material means of the family are promoted.

What is a theology of simplicity in relation to dignified funerals and eco-coffins?

A theology of simplicity considers continuing human relationships and wellbeing before, during and after a loved one has been buried. It encourages simple and dignified funerals which preserve the quality of doing a funeral using just basic necessary requirements.

It is the object of a theology of simplicity to justify and promote a simple yet dignified lifestyle. Simple living and affordable and dignified funerals and burials are in line with most religious teachings.

In reflecting on simplicity theologically, we approach the subject from different perspectives. First we look at the life of Jesus, then at various theological concepts: the process of God becoming human (incarnation), the self-emptying of Christ (kenosis), fellowship (koinonia), and service (diakonia).

The Life of Jesus

The life of Jesus was such, simple and clarifying who God is. Jesus came to bring life in fullness (Jn 1,16), but this did not mean accumulation of or a focus on material wealth but a fulfilled life through fulfilling relationships with God and fellow human beings (Mk 12,28-31) with service as a central element (Mk 9,33-35). Indeed, Jesus warns repeatedly about the danger of material wealth (Mt 5,19-24; Mk 10,24f). Instead, as he lived himself a simple life, he taught his disciples likewise (Mt 10, 9f). Rather than trusting in earthly riches, he taught trust in God’s providence (Mt 6, 25-34) and a pilgrim existence (Lk 9, 57-62), which implies the absence of clinging to earthly riches.

God became human in Jesus Christ (incarnation)

Incarnation means God in Jesus Christ becoming human, coming into the carnal, dressing on creation, putting on creatureliness, entering into the perceptual, adopting a particular culture, becoming part of a certain social group, being born inside its religious evolution and belief systems, participating in its political life, dwelling in the flesh and freely and willingly subjecting into the limitedness, frailty and weakness of being human (Jn. 1: 1 – 14; Phil. 2: 5 – 11). It is significant that God chose to become human in utter simplicity in Bethlehem as son of simple people (Lk 2, 4-6).

God in Jesus Christ chooses a life of self-emptying service (kenosis)

In Kenosis (Phil. 2: 1ff), Christ relinquishes the divinity, the omnipotent (all powerful) to take the form of a servant. The divine being simplified into a human servant and a slave. Jesus willingly becomes an obedient one to the point of the death on the cross. And God honored this self-emptying and raised Jesus from the dead.

God in Jesus Christ relates to humans in fellowship (koinonia) and service (diakonia)

God in Jesus Christ came to fellowship and to serve humanity and in turn when humanity accepts His gesture we are in turn in fellowship with Him and serving one God and one another together with Him (Jn. 13: 1ff). The simplicity of leadership or servant-hood leadership is demonstrated when Jesus takes a towel and a bowel of water and washes the feet of His disciples. In this simple service of washing the feet of the disciples Jesus demonstrated His love for the disciples.

The Role of Communities in Funerals and Burials

In African traditional communities death and bereavement was a communal responsibility. One task of the community included making preparations for the burial and bearing the costs of the funeral. The burden was not left with the bereaved family alone. The community brought water, food and firewood to the bereaved homestead, and assisted in all funeral chores and costs. Unfortunately this practice has been abandoned, and in its place has surfaced the custom of the bereaved family having to bear the full costs of feeding all who come to mourn including funeral and burial costs.

In order to address this issue, KZNCC encourages families to discuss and take a position on how they will conduct their funerals of their members, so as not to plunge the family into debt. Practically, we encourage church members to write a will which states that they want to be buried in a simple and dignified funeral using an Eco-Coffin to reduce costs. The communities must rethink their role in the funerals and that is to assist the bereaved family pastorally, spiritually, and materially.

What are Eco-Coffins?

Eco-Coffins are cost-effective coffins that are made of wood from ‘alien invasive’ trees, which is trees that are not indigenous to South Africa and are damaging to our natural environment, mainly because firstly they are taking over space to the detriment of indigenous plant species; and secondly they also use a lot of ground water with negative consequences to our ground water levels.

For these reasons, the Department for Water and Forestry is supporting an initiative to use the wood from alien invasive trees to make coffins and other furniture. Using Eco- Coffins is therefore both having an eco-logical as well as an eco-nomic impact, making a
contribution to conserve our God-given natural environment, and being sensible in terms of their cost-effectiveness. In addition, the production of Eco-Coffins contributes towards creation of jobs and transfer of carpentry skills.

The Eco-Coffins project is a response to the problem of expensive funerals by contributing to affordable, dignified and simple funerals and burials. The Eco-Coffins project is an expression of a theology of simple and dignified funerals. A theology of simple funerals using Eco-Coffins commences and progresses to answer questions of faith in relation to funerals and burial. The ideas brought forward in this paper are intended to be the start of an ongoing process of theological reflection within the ecumenical church on what it means to have dignified funerals in the present context of South Africa.

Simple living is possible. Simple lifestyle is appreciable. And simple funeral or burial should be encouraged to be part of our present culture. The Eco-Coffins project seeks to put quality before quantity at our burials. It seeks to add value and dignity towards our funerals. It seeks to restrain possibilities of the burden of debt caused by expensive funerals. So why not use Eco-Coffins?

25 June 2009

Revised 29 July 2009

Revised 8 September 2009