On Scarcity and Abundance

Walter Brueggemann has written and spoken extensively on “Theology of Abundance,” “Liturgy of Abundance, and “Myth of Scarcity.” His analysis begins with Pharaoh who, he says, introduced the concept of scarcity into economics. Yeshua counters with a sacramental (and subversive) economics based on abundance and generosity. He suggests that “our world absolutely requires this news . . . [that] the creation is infused with the Creator’s generosity, and we can find practices, procedures, and institutions that allow that generosity to work.”

I believe that Brueggemann is correct in his analysis but premature in his prescription. Pharaoh has been reincarnated in American culture as the consumer society. Every attempt to address abundance falls prey to “whoever dies with the most toys wins.” Whenever abundance enters the conversation, it is understood in terms of competitive economics where more is preferable to less, bigger is better than smaller. If I can paraphrase Brueggemann, abundance has become a narcotic for us. We are abundance junkies.

“God blesses—that is, endows with vitality. . .” (also from Brueggemann) is perhaps a better approach. It is vitality and wholesomeness that is desired; the blessing of a vital and wholesome life, not abundance. Given our culture’s narcotized obsession with abundance, maybe it is not abundance, but scarcity, that we need to learn how to negotiate. How can we be concerned for the poor, if we are celebrating abundance?

In our search of deep generosity, we might learn from the cloistered orders and their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Poverty, as a choice, is not about being without possessions; it is about not being possessed by them. Chastity, as a choice, means not being possessed by our sexual desires. Obedience, as a choice, does not mean the lack of freedom; it means freedom interpreted by responsibility and generosity.

What if we were to develop the discipline of discerning the meaning and value of scarcity in the midst of society’s obsession with abundance? The question for reflection might be: “How am I able to be generous because I don’t have much that I have to hold on to? What difference would it make if, instead of obsessing about whatever abundance I don’t have, I would celebrate scarcity as a blessing waiting to happen—an opportunity to be generous? There was a time when I was simply satisfied with what I had. When did it change? When did I change? Now I assess how much I want (or think I need) something new. It is hard to be honest about how much more I really need? (I do know how much I want—more!) Am I afraid of scarcity?

Of one thing I am certain—Christians living closer to scarcity than to abundance tend to be far more generous.

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