catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 10 :: 2009.05.08 — 2009.05.22


An overflowing theme

One day recently my thoughts returned (gratefully) to a commencement address I heard several months ago at the college where I teach.  Specifically, I found myself thinking again about the theme of scarcity vs. abundance that ran through that speech.  Why this remembering now?

  • Maybe because of a stirring visit (as part of a college honors seminar on community) to Reba Place Fellowship, an intentional Christian community in Evanston, Illinois with attitudes toward resources — money, yes, but also time and energy — that are different from the attitudes that I usually inhabit.
  • Maybe because on that trip I was also listening to some of my students (and to myself) worry about restarting the semester after spring break — with half the semester in front of us, there was much good work to do, but we also knew that the end would soon loom into sight.
  • Maybe because I awoke that morning reasonably well-rested and relaxed enough to reflect for a few minutes — but also concerned enough about the morning’s tasks that, as soon as I awoke, I was already doing the mental calculations to figure out how to fit it all in.
  • And maybe (I hope) because, this Lent, I worked on renewing my relationship to the biblical psalms by taking them up in some different ways — ways that challenged my accustomed patterns of inhabiting the hours of the day and night.

Whatever the reason, I found myself thinking about scarcity and abundan ce — not as objective states of affairs, but as different attitudes or stances in life, perhaps even different ways of life.  Scarcity is our culture’s default setting: we tend to live crushingly aware of the limits of our resources, our money, our time, our energy, our love, our life.  Those limits are real, to be sure, but the attitude of scarcity responds to them with the impulse to hoard, to calculate, to try to save as much for ourselves or for whatever causes we deem (almost) as worthy as ourselves.

But the good news of God’s creation is that the fundamental reality, the deepest truth, is not scarcity, but abundance.  There is enough, and overflowing — until we, in our scarcity-mindset, decide that there’s not enough, and start grasping.  That grasping cuts us off and, as much as it’s up to us, breaks the flow of abundance.  We find ourselves dried up, burned out, prunishly wondering why we feel so lousy and “don’t have anything to offer” (you should hear the words between the quotation marks as spoken awkwardly through an overly stuffed mouth).

I don’t know why, but I grew up worrying, when I received a gift, whether I was living up to it, using it in the way and to the degree intended by the one who gave it to me — and fearful that if the answer was “no,” it might be taken back.  That’s the scarcity mindset at work, and its effects are predictably sad: with such an attitude, I’m doomed to failure, since even using (that is, enjoying!) the gift at all risks breaking it or doing something wrong to it.  That’s no way to live, whether the gift is a childhood toy from parents, signs of trust from a dear friend, another breath of life from our Lord — or the prospect of several weeks of challenging but potentially invigorating tasks from all of those who make the academic life possible for my students and me.

Lord, may our hands be open enough to receive gratefully and to give generously, in the trust that there is (and will be) enough, more than enough.  “Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap”  (Luke 6:38).

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