Rethinking Scarcity: A Legacy of Abundance

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Tim Miller 2010 02 14 Hyatt Coolum 170 480x300

I’ve heard that most of our theology is really autobiography. This is true in my case because I am my father’s daughter.

In my family folklore, the story goes like this: my father suffered greatly at the hands of anxiety and worry. Fear took over his life, his work, and his relationships; even his health fell prey - his gut turned to ulcers. Filled with despair, he could see a hopeless path ahead, a long life filled with fear and the relentless managing of it, just as it had for so many in his family, generation after generation.

My father had a deep suspicion of religion and distrust of authority, but when his young wife heard the Gospel for the first time, he warily agreed to attend church with her for the sake of their two daughters. While he was there, the minister happened to read a story from the Gospels about how Jesus healed people and set them free. So he asked that preacher if it was true. (My father knew enough to know that sometimes people preach stuff they don’t actually believe or do in the real world.) But that kind reverend said, yes, yes, he did believe it and, in a bold move, he told my dad to pray about it. Never one to turn down a dare, my father went home and asked Jesus to heal him and set him free from fear. He didn’t do it the “right” way (whatever that means) but the miracle is this: he was healed. The fear that had been his constant companion simply lifted like a veil, the anxiety broke off like opened fetters, even his ulcers were healed.

And with that miracle, Jesus now had a red-haired Canadian man striding along behind him in cowboy boots. Wherever that Jesus went, man, you better believe my dad was going there, too.

So from the time I was a small girl, both he and my mother have led me to believe in the core of my soul’s narrative that there is no fear in Love and we are the children of that Love. For more than thirty years now, my father has lived in the freedom from fear. He has modeled it, preached it, lived it, spoken it, and prayed it into my marrow. To him, God is like a good parent, longing for true life and freedom and wholeness for his children. I grew up in that story and its lifelong implications.

“He’s set before us life and death, Sarah Lynn,” my dad would say, “and he always wants us to choose life. He’s a God of life, girl, life and life more abundant!”

The Myth of Scarcity

Out of all the richness studying and learning have brought to my life, one of the loveliest is the discovery that my father’s inherent and rather humble beliefs about the God he loved were, in fact, deeply and theologically correct. The Holy Spirit led my father and my mother to this knowledge without any of the “proper” books or seminary-trained leaders, perhaps, but they knew the truth about the nature and character of God and about our true citizenship as part of a prophetic and alternative community.

It was a sweet moment to read ancient liturgies for the first time and discover parallels with our own prayers, to read biographies and stories throughout the ages from other believers who had experienced and known God in this dance between Scripture and Spirit, and then recently to read theological greats like Dr. Walter Brueggemann, for instance, and there find the language for what our hearts already knew about God’s abundant life.

Few theologians have influenced me the way that Brueggemann has— perhaps N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard are up there with him— from my political and economic engagement to my vocation as a writer to even my personal discipleship. His work on the “Liturgy of Abundance versus the Myth of Scarcity” is primarily for the big picture—the empire, economics, justice for the poor, war— but because I am a small woman with a fairly small life and realm of influence, I find that his words illuminated even my own life in the individual and communal ways, too. In his words, I found my father’s legacy articulated.

The myth of scarcity tells the powerful to accumulate and take and dominate, to be driven by the fear of Not Enough and Never Enough. We make our decisions out of fear and anxiety that there isn’t enough for us. These core beliefs can lead us to the treacheries of war and hunger, injustice and inequality. We must keep others down so we can stay on top. We stockpile money and food and comforts at the expense of one another and our own souls. Throughout Scripture, we can see the myth of scarcity’s impact on—and even within—the nation of Israel. The prophets wrote and stood in bold criticism against the empire’s myth of scarcity that built on the backs of the poor and oppressed.

Abundance as an Act of Faith

But the Kingdom of God is more than enough. It’s an act of faith to live with the narrative of abundance instead of the fear of scarcity.

As the Church, we are called to exist in a prophetic community, an alternative to the narratives of the world living out the Kingdom of God in our right-now lives. There isn’t scarcity, not really: there is more than enough if we live like our Jesus.

For instance, scarcity tells us to work until we drop. We’ve got to hustle, hustle, hustle to get ours and then to keep it. But in the liturgy of abundance, we practice Sabbath. Exhaustion and burn-out are symptoms of scarcity: wholeness, joy, rest are hallmarks of a life lived within abundance. In fact, Brueggemann calls the practice of Sabbath an act of resistance because we are saying no to “the culture of now.”

But it’s within the life of our Jesus that we see it most clearly: Jesus was the full embodiment of what it means to be human in the way that God intended. He uplifts instead of tearing down, he heals instead of kills, he lays down his life instead of fighting to survive, he chooses compassion instead of numb acceptance, he is water to a thirsty soul, bread to the hungry, oil of joy for mourning. And instead of death, he is life. Life!

Room for Us All

Even within my chosen vocation as a writer, I find myself fighting against the myth of scarcity often. It’s rooted in fear. The fear that I’m not enough, the fear that someone else’s success spells my failure, the fear of becoming irrelevant or unread. So I find myself returning to my father’s core beliefs about God often. Maybe he didn’t have the language of Brueggemann, but he made sure I knew that we do not serve a God of scarcity; we serve a God of abundance. To push back against the darkness of scarcity and my own roots of fear that still tendril through, I practice living out my legacy of abundance, love, grace, and freedom.

There is more than enough for us all, there is room for us all, and everything that Love intends for us to become will come to fruition in the appointed time.

And so it is, I am slowly learning over a lifetime of steady practice, what my father somehow learned so easily, right at the beginning.

Rethinking Scarcity

We all know the pinch of limited resources. Whether it's a crunch for time, a shrinking bank account, or a competitive workplace, we often experience life dissatisfied and craving more. At The High Calling, we are Rethinking Scarcity, attempting to understand how both real and perceived scarcity influences our thoughts and behaviors. We also will explore scarcity’s influence in our decisions and how reimagining constraints not only changes the way we respond to our circumstances, but ultimately may change our circumstances themselves. Join us for the conversation, and while you're at it, why not share some of these same resources via email or social media with friends or colleagues who also might also be interested.

Feature image by Tim Miller. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.