Have we let fear and anxiety distance ourselves from each other as we cocoon ourselves in self sufficiency and unwittingly deprive ourselves from the richness of ‘relationship’ that comes from sharing and giving to each other?
That is the question that a certain Peter Owen Jones sought to answer in a recent three part BBC series ‘How to live a simple life’. I’m blogging this article as I watch the second episode of this thought provoking series and so far I’m impressed by what this ex advertising executive turned parish priest is challenging modern humanity to do.
Owen Jones Esq
The show follows Owen Jones as he turns his intense gaze to St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, and tries to follow in his footsteps to live a life freed from material constraints.
It’s all a far cry from the world of advertising, in which Owen Jones worked before he joined the clergy. Born and raised in Britain, he left school at 16 to climb the corporate ladder in Australia, working as a highly paid “ideas man” (his words) for an ad agency. Disillusioned with the quest for money, in his late 20s he threw it in to join the clergy. Now 52, he has been ordained for 17 years, working in parishes in Cambridgeshire and East Sussex.
The broadcasting stint began after he appeared in a BBC Four program about the Church of England in 2003. The Beeb saw in Owen Jones’s sonorous foghorn of a voice and weathered, handsome features the potential for a new presenter on religious matters. Over his next two series, BBC Two’s Extreme Pilgrim in 2008 and Around the World in 80 Faiths last year, he exhibited an engaging humility well suited to his quests to get under the skin of different beliefs. He has since also movingly documented his journey to find his birth mother, a Scottish woman who gave him up for adoption when he was a baby.
Owen Jones at the Geghard Monastery
He says the idea for ‘How to Live a Simple Life’ came to him in 2008, as he watched the banking system crumble around the world. “It was just after the credit crunch hit,” he says. “I remember thinking, ‘This is insane. We’re facing this massive meltdown and we’re all being asked to spend money. There’s something unwell here. This desire for wealth is bad.’”
St Francis was a natural subject. Last year marked the 800th anniversary of his order, and, says Owen Jones, “I’d always had immeasurable respect for the man. There’s something intimate in his teaching that’s quite unusual. I don’t think you can really understand him by reading or hearing about it – you have to experience some of what he means for yourself. He managed to live, following the teachings of Christ, without money. I wanted to find out whether you could manage that today.”
I (The Stylemeister) watched, fascinated, as Owen Jones slowly relinquishes the use of money. He starts by raising chickens and growing his own vegetables, washing up in pub kitchens and working as a gardener in exchange for food and drink. He mournfully downs his last bought pint, handing his cheque book and his wallet over to the cameraman. By the end of the episode, however, he realises that simply living without money in and around his home is not enough. “I was too well looked after,” he says, “so I decided to hitchhike and walk to the Devon/Cornwall border, without using money.” This journey forms the subject for the remaining two episodes.
Would you relinquish money and status for a simple, quiet life?
For Owen Jones the journey proved very hard. “It made people – especially mothers – nervous when I turned up asking to sleep in their garden shed,” he says. “They kept saying ‘I’m afraid that…’ I didn’t want to cause people that sort of fear, so after a while I stopped asking.”
Yet despite this, he says making the program opened his eyes to what he believes is a revived interest in spirituality in Britain. He found that a lot of the people he came across, after their initial trepidation, treated him in a way that showed that charity and compassion, were important to them. “I think we’re seeing a huge reawakening of spirituality,” he says, “at the same time as we have seen the collapse of cultural Christianity.”
He says he’s particularly interested in the return of charity – something that can counter the excesses of consumerism. “We can all afford to give a great deal more,” he says.
“We’re not attuned to that any longer. We see those without money as failing in the terms of society we’ve created. I don’t want my children growing up to think that. I’m not saying that religion is the only answer, but we’ve asked if money is the only answer and shown that it isn’t.”
Despite his own proclivities (a failed marriage) and being condemned as “ad man turned gimmick salesman”, Owen Jones has cracked on to what, we see at MSP, is a move towards a collective search for a deeper, more meaningful way of living. We’re fans of this movement, infact we encourage it because it means that in the face of fear, terrorism and collective anxiety, men and women are soul searching in an effort to connect with one another, and to build fraternal, generous and community based relationships whilst seeking a simple, fulfilled life.
NB: If you’re surprised that MenStylePower is advocating a life of simplicity, then you’ll need to read our “manifesto”. We’re NOT about self obsessed fashion and runway couture, we’re about encouraging men to be their best from the inside FIRST, sans clothes, fashion, ego and money.
We believe in embracing a quality of life that is joyful and giving; one that’s firmly residing in the real world but respects and upholds the needs of others. We are all interconnected and your happiness is not separate from the happiness of others – and so we’re singing the praises of ‘A Simple Life’ as we have to BE the change we want to see in others.
“Rev Peter Owen Jones: Taking financial advice from St Francis of Assisi”, The Daily Telegraph UK, 2010.