Friday, May 25, 2007

Abundancy Mentality, Trust and Fear

I've been writing about fear and trust for our church newsletter recently--I edited some, but this is basically what I said:

Abundancy Mentality
Once a month I lead an additional worship service, in the emerging-church style. Last time we created a diner atmosphere, complete with red checkered tablecloths, gum-smacking waitresses, and short-order cooks. The theme was the Community in Christ that we can create anywhere we are. The idea came from Carrie Newcomer's song, "Betty's Diner" (see, one line in which is "eggs and toast like bread and wine." So, of course we served eggs and toast.
I was in the kitchen when I heard that we had run out of scrambled eggs. Oh, no, I thought. Moments later one of our ‘waitresses’ came up to the ‘short-order window’ to return a plate of food because it wasn’t needed—everyone had been served. I felt relieved, obviously, but as the evening continued I realized I also felt joy. In a tiny way I had been reminded of God’s abundance.

Henri Nouwen writes: “The opposite of a scarcity mentality is an abundancy mentality. With an abundancy mentality we say: ‘There is enough for everyone, more than enough: food, knowledge, love ... everything.’ With this mind-set we give away whatever we have, to whomever we meet. When we see hungry people we give them food. When we meet ignorant people we share our knowledge; when we encounter people in need of love, we offer them friendship and affection and hospitality and introduce them to our family and friends. When we live with this mind-set, we will see the miracle that what we give away multiplies: food, knowledge, love ... everything. There will even be many leftovers.”

What keeps us from living from an abundancy mentality? Fear. Deep down we believe that if we give away what we have there won’t be enough left for us, for our family, for our community, for our nation. Fear. And the antidote to fear? In this case, the antidote is Trust.

Trusting in God that there is more than enough money, knowledge, food, or love is not about some sort of formula—it’s not an “if-then” kind of thing that “works” if you trust correctly. Mystery abounds with the abundancy mentality—as Nouwen wrote, it is a miracle. But of course the results are not mysterious: in my experience, practicing an abundancy mentality means an increasing ability to live our lives with a sense of freedom and joy. (And neither are the results of a scarcity mentality mysterious. Look around—a scarcity mentality manifests in homelessness, poverty, slavery, gated communities . . . )

If we had run out of eggs, would that mean, then, that our trust in God was lacking? —or— Because we did have enough eggs to feed everyone, were we trusting God? Framing it either way puts it in the context of a narrow and limiting formula; it puts God in a box. Perhaps the better response would simply be gratitude that everyone was fed and continuance of the difficult practice of trusting God.

"Security is mostly a Superstition"
One of the major messages of my childhood was: “grow up and get a good job with a good retirement plan.” My parents were both depression-era-babies, so that message is understandable. And I did what I was told. The company I worked for had a great salary and retirement plan. When I left there in 1994 to go to seminary it was like jumping off a cliff, and I clearly remember telling a couple of people of my fear of becoming a bag lady. (sounds ridiculous, but true)

In Helen Keller's "Let Us Have Faith," she writes: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. . . . Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”

She is saying what the senior minister at my church said recently in a sermon: “I find that the best protected tend to be the most fearful and the most unhappy. They have closed themselves off to lots of surprising good news from God. For all of us who have that terrible feeling that we just can’t figure out what it is that God wants us to do—with our lives, with our calling, with our church, with our family, as a country—it just might be because we have so protected ourselves that we are not ever outside the gate down by the river [like Lydia, Acts 16: 9-15] where the stuff of God is being talked about.”

My fear of becoming a bag lady did not materialize, obviously. For 10 years I was without a ‘real’ job or regular income, but somehow (a word heavily freighted with theological significance!) things always worked out. Although I still need frequent reminders, those are the years when I began to understand, a little, what trust is about. As I've written before, this is not about living from a formula: if we do [whatever] then God will bless us with money or success or [whatever]. That kind of theology conveniently ignores the manifold examples of failure, rejection, destitution, and broken dreams that all of God’s people experience. It’s about "choosing to turn our backs on oppressive and ubiquitous fear and instead choosing to practice generosity and hospitality." That’s the security of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s a choice we can make as individuals and corporately as a community of faith.


Linda said...

I'm here! Glad to see you're blogging, Katherine. This is great stuff!

Katherine said...

Thanks, Linda!

Jan said...

Glad to see HOW to comment on a blog--this is the second for yours, so maybe I'm catching on--Now that's a risk!

Katherine said...

I think I know how you feel, Jan!