Pastoral Series

Enough! – Scarcity

   Years ago, I picked up a book that opened my eyes to stuff I somehow had never pondered. The title, God the Economist, caught my eye, as did the great reputation of its author, Doug Meeks, a theologian who taught at Wesley Seminary and then Vanderbilt.

We tend to think the economy just is. It’s out there, we contribute to and participate in it, we hope it thrives. But Meeks unveils a host of assumptions in our market economy, and how they don’t square well with what’s at the heart of Christianity, and may actually drive a wedge between us and God. The premise of our economy is that more is better. It’s a competition, with financial rewards for the diligent, clever or lucky people. You wind up with Haves, and Have-nots, which is as it should be.

The most curious dynamic the way we live in this economy is its pervasive sense of Scarcity. It’s kin (to me) to the way that, when we pray, we pray about health – when we live in the healthiest place ever. We have a sense of scarcity in an economy of plenty. There may not be enough. It might not have enough. Advertisers cajole you into thinking you need certain things for a full life. Even if you have them, there are more, and newer things, and you’d best get them before they run out.

For the Christian, these not-so-subtle messages complicate faith. We believe that whatever is good is a gift from God – but if we make goods into commodities to be bought, sold, invested or saved, they don’t look like gifts any longer. If it’s about earning, beating somebody else, climbing a ladder, it doesn’t look like a gift any longer. And the insatiable desire for more, or for what’s newer: how will we ever feel content?

“Need” has become such a convoluted word. I need a couple of weeks away at a tropical resort. I need a new car. I need to try that fabulous restaurant. I need a raise. I need… and so it goes. We are indeed needy people, but how confused can we become? “Needs” are more basic – like shelter, food, maybe healthcare, and certainly love and purpose. But the consumer economy distracts us, inundating us with messages of ever newer needs. You are a consumer! You must consume! And more! No wonder we feel hollow. As Maggie Ross reminds us, we feel empty, not because we are empty, but because we’re full of the wrong stuff.

Meeks urges us to rethink how we relate to the economy. Scarcity isn’t a real thing. There is plenty. You need way less than you think you need. And in God’s economy, there aren’t to be Haves and Have-nots. God’s gifts aren’t just for you and yours. They are for everyone. The old Haitian proverb wisely says “God gives, but God doesn’t share.” It’s when we think community, and others, and that there’s enough, and we are part of God’s project to live not just for me but for others, that we find the love and purpose we – yes – need.

Over the next few days, be attentive to the messages you hear regarding what you need, what you “deserve,” what will make you happy – and to your own cravings, what you sense you need, and maybe even what you really need.

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