Thursday, May 9, 2013

Abundance shifts

When Eugene and I did a course called Lazarus at the Gate about six years ago, it was transformative for us. The course was about economic discipleship and learning what Jesus' approach to money might be. We learned a lot about fair trade consumption, as well as trying to decrease our consumption. For Eug and I, entering our second year of marriage, we suddenly had to make a budget and confront our debt. Rather than simply confront our spending and budget in terms of necessities and extras, we got to look at our budget as a moral document, and at our money as a potential vehicle for blessing others. At the end of group, with the other members we pooled our money and gave to groups that we had all researched.

One of the tenets of the course is that "wealth is a blessing" and the second is that, as a blessing "wealth must be justly distributed." I don't mean to conflate wealth and abundance, but I've been thinking of how the two relate and are similar and different.

Since finishing the course and going on with our lives, abundance has at times meant being able to do things that were financially possible because of our relative wealth. Travel. Good food. Giving away stuff. This sense of abundance was real and has its moments.

But there was another sense in which abundance is in tension with just distribution. I sometimes will say things like "I can handle anything, but I need [fill in the blank]" Whatever filled the blank provides some tension for me, because the reality is that, for example, flush toilets for the whole world isn't sustainable. Cars for everyone is not reasonable or helpful or attainable. So to the extent that I measure blessing by having those "needs", I'm claiming an exclusive blessing for myself that doesn't fit with the kind of God I read about and connect with. If blessing is experienced as house or going on a beach holiday, then how is God blessing or loving the poor? I don't mean this in a legalistic way. I drive a car and flush the toilet. What I'm trying to grapple with is that these 'blessings' are not what abundance means. As such, if we do give these things up, we won't be giving up abundance or blessings in favour of a negative kind of austerity.

Rather, we'll be entering into a new type of abundance, not mediated by luxury. I get glimpses of this kind of abundance when I bake bread or cook something simple or take some spinach from our garden and cook it: at a very basic level providing my sustenance is beyond my control, it is a gift (as I learn every time the slugs come). Perhaps financial wealth is the opposite of this, where we work on abstract problems and buy anonymous things and it feels like our livelihood is proportional to our striving.

A couple of weeks ago, Eli started to walk, and I thought I got a little glimpse of abundance in first steps, and his steps even now. Eli has had a very simple life. He's been carried, breastfed, and loved, but he's just sortof slipped into our life. Yet in the course of a year, he went from a floppy little blob to a walking, talking, laughing boy. The process was deeply natural and beyond my control, and witnessing it seemed as close to a pure gift as I could imagine- like my own very personal sunrise or sunset.


Darren B said...

Dear Jo
Thanks for this post. I could relate to much of what you're saying. Lately, it seems like a glimmer of light has been poking through my ears.

Too often my needs were about drinking a lot of Starbucks coffee or doing everything I can to make my life more convenient. At a certain level, I came to the realization that this convenience had a cost. I found myself increasingly limited by my poor choices.

Anyway, I think you have it right, in finding and pursuing abundance in simple blessings. Maybe with all that excess taken away, gives you more opportunity to enjoy the simple things.

I hope this is a place where I can go. I feel like I'm learning, but it does take a sea change, and a very fundamentally different way of seeing things. Small steps I guess.

Concrete Gardener said...

Hi Darren- thanks for your thoughts. I guess for me the abundance of simple pleasures snuck up on me. When I purposely tried to give up stuff so that we could be more generous, I still really wanted the Starbucks.

So the revelation I'm feeling now is that abundance is a really secure thing and something that will always be there, because it's from God not from anything I can really do. The post is still not fully thought through yet, because there's certainly complicated life contexts in there and it's not as simple as forgoing Starbucks in favour of sunset.