Monday, October 6, 2014

Slow Church: Scarcity vs. Abundance

I grew up in what as then and what would be considered a solid middle class home. It was the almost stereotyped post-World War II American experience: father worked; mother was a stay-at-home. We lived in a suburb of 1950s tract houses. We Baby Boomers overran everything – schools, churches, the neighborhood. (It’s difficult to describe to a young parent today what Halloween looked like in the 1950s and 1960s.)

While we weren’t wealthy, we were also not deprived. We always had food on the table. In her later years, my mother talked about how important that was, because she grew up in a poor family in the 1930s Depression, and she could remember times of going to bed hungry because there was literally no food in the house. She was able to do something her older sisters could not – graduate from high school. College, however, had been out of the question.

My father came from marginally better circumstances. His father had been a railroad surveyor and then a small grocery store owner. They lived on the poor side of town, and 1930s Shreveport has a well defined class structure (my father called it a caste system), but they never lacked for basics like food. They may not have else much more than that, but they did have enough resources to keep the family fed.

Even for most of the poor in 2014 America, it’s hard to imagine not having food in the house. It does happen, though, even in a society as wealthy as ours. But it doesn’t happen on the scale that the nation experienced in the 1930s.

And yet, say Christopher Smith, John Pattison and Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove in Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, “…we live in a culture that is driven by an economy rooted in the myth that there is not enough.” This myth of scarcity preys upon our fears “that there will not be enough resources in the world to provide for us, and thus that we might starve or otherwise suffer from deprivation.”

For American Christians, they say, this creates an obvious and constant tension. On the one hand, our culture is based upon the economics of scarcity, and our consumerist society emphasizes that over and over. On the other hand, we know God’s promise to sustain us, his promise that he will provide for our needs.

Our usual response is to agree with God’s provision on Sunday and heed the culture the rest of the week. We’ve got both bases covered.

I have a confession here: this chapter of the book made me distinctly uncomfortable. And I think that’s a good thing. What I don’t need and don’t want is to read something that merely serve to reinforce existing behavior.

I don’t mean to imply, and neither do the authors of Slow Church, that we should sell our cars, and empty our closets and pantries. But what we can do is consider how we are using the resources God has given us. Are we building barns or building the kingdom?

For the past several Mondays, I’ve been discussing Slow Church. This week’s discussion is about the chapter entitled “Abundance.” Next week, the discussion will be on “Gratitude.” I do highly recommend this book, but it won’t make you feel comfortable.

Illustration by Karen Arnold via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

No comments: