The Common Good

The Price of Holiness

Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Has it not been told you from the foundations of the earth? You shall have a song and gladness of heart.

Statue of a young angel playing the mandolin. Photo courtesy Fabio Alcini/shutterstock.com

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Or something like that.

There is a movement in Randall Thompson's "Peaceable Kingdom" that haunts me. The lyrics to it are paraphrased above. It's been a long time since I have sung it, perhaps more than 10 years now. So, I am not sure that I have it right. That said, it's still a pretty potent declaration.

I have been talking to a friend lately about the nature of achievement. We have been talking about money and art and what it means to care for oneself and the concept that human beings deserve to be happy. Or, more accurately, deserve to get what they want. Being happy and getting what you want are not always the same thing. Of course, you knew that already.

Austerity measures avail us nothing. Not on the personal level. Not on the communal level. Austerity, when redefined theologically, can become holy poverty. But that is a particular vocation. Vocations aside, we Christians are all called to serve through our wealth. Christians are called to share what they have. "If you wish to be perfect." [Matt.19:21]

But are we all called to this kind of perfection? It is a rigorous call. Especially when we want to have children and leave a legacy of some kind. The American dream, for example, can be perceived as at odds with the Christian vocation; the vocation of sharing "all things in common."

What then about opportunity? What then about happiness? What then about the cost in our economic realities to make something beautiful? Cathedrals do not come cheaply, you know.

My favorite mandolin at present will cost me $2,500 to purchase. Likely I will never purchase it. But that is not a particularly expensive mandolin. To make beautiful music, how much does one have to invest? Are our culture's expectations of beauty, and thus my own, too expensive to fit within the parameters of the Christian vocation as I have outlined it?

If God is truth and goodness and beauty, can we afford God any longer? Have we priced ourselves out of relationship with the divine?

You shall have a song and gladness of heart. But can you afford it?

Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.orgFollow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.

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