Trouble Don’t Last Always

Darkness

Trouble Don’t Last Always
Thursday, December 5, 2019

Today I share the writing of a modern mystic, Dr. Diana L. Hayes. She is an author and professor emerita of systematic theology at Georgetown University. I appreciate how her writing integrates her intellectual knowledge with her deeply embodied life experience. Hayes’ words are a testament to the deeper “knowing” that comes about through bleak times of suffering:

Reality for blacks in the United States has always been one of seeming paradox. “Trouble” always seems to be in our way, regardless of the form it takes, from forced migration, slavery, second-class citizenship, to the constant enervating struggle with proponents of racism and the lack of opportunity for education, decent health care, and a life of dignity and happiness. Yet, through it all . . . we have been a people with our eyes “fixed” on God, a people for whom “trouble don’t last always.” . . .

My own life has enabled me to follow . . . the struggles of my people and to experience the pain of being “different” in too many ways to make life in this world, with its stress on conformity, an unvarnished blessing. . . .

My growing up years were ones split between bursts of athletic energy . . . and times of reflective quiet spent in bed reading while I recuperated from one illness or another.

Paradoxically, it was those quiet times which always gave me the strength to go back out into the world again. God has always seemed to come to me in days of pain-filled darkness and disillusionment, to hold my hand, to counsel me, to prepare me to go forth renewed in spirit and body. . . .

I wrestled with God on my bed of pain as I do still today . . . I argue and shout and listen and pray and question and doubt and finally acquiesce, only to move further down the path to another fork in the road where the struggle begins yet anew. . . .

I believe I have learned, because of my own struggles, how to see, hear, and feel the struggles of others, voiced and unvoiced. This has led me to explore theology . . . a new and challenging way—from the bottom up. I know what it is like to be poor, to be discriminated against because of my poverty, my race, my gender, and my disabilities. These many years of struggle and pain [physical, mental, and spiritual] . . . have forged me in the fiery furnace of God’s love. . . .

My life, a seeming paradox of contradictions and odd twists and turns, has truly been one where troubles of many different forms have always been in my way. Yet I know now, deep within me, that “trouble don’t always last.” God is not through with me yet.

I am touched by the way that Diana Hayes shares the struggles that have brought her into deeper solidarity with all who suffer and have shaped her reading of Scripture “from the bottom up.” Surely that is the point of any descent into darkness—to share the new kind of light we have discovered within it. 

Reference:
Diana L. Hayes, No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality (Orbis Books: 2016), 38, 39, 42, 43, 44.

Image credit: Helen Keller, no. 8 (detail), 1904, Whitman Studio, The Helen Keller Foundation; colorist, Jared Enos.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Not knowing or uncertainty is a kind of darkness that many people find unbearable. . . . The very meaning of faith stands in stark contrast to this mindset. We have to live in exquisite, terrible humility before reality. In this space, God gives us a spirit of questing, a desire for understanding. In some ways it is like learning to “see in the dark.” —Richard Rohr

Life Goes On

Darkness

Life Goes On
Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Sister Joan Chittister continues to reflect on what it means to suffer through times of doubt or unknowing when it comes to our faith:

The sense of being stranded in the midst of life . . . is enough to drain a person’s very personality until there is little left to recognize. Where did the joy go all of a sudden? Where did the feeling of self-confidence disappear to in the midst of this emptiness? Just yesterday life was clear and vibrant. Today it is endlessly bleak. The darkness is unyielding. Nothing helps; nothing takes it away.

There is no light here, we think. But we think wrong.

There is a light in us that only darkness itself can illuminate. It is the glowing calm that comes over us when we finally surrender to the ultimate truth of creation: that there is a God and we are not it. . . . Then the clarity of it all is startling. Life is not about us; we are about the project of finding Life. At that moment, spiritual vision illuminates all the rest of life. And it is that light that shines in darkness.

Only the experience of our own darkness gives us the light we need to be of help to others whose journey into the dark spots of life is only just beginning. It’s then that our own taste of darkness qualifies us to be an illuminating part of the human expedition. Without that, we are only words, only false witnesses to the truth of what it means to be pressed to the ground and rise again.

The light we gain in darkness is the awareness that, however bleak the place of darkness was for us, we did not die there. We know now that life begins again on the other side of the darkness. Another life. A new life. After the death, the loss, the rejection, the failure, life does go on. Differently, but on. Having been sunk into the cold night of . . . despair—and having survived it—we rise to new light, calm and clear and confident that what will be, will be enough for us.

And I, Richard, believe that even when we or someone we love does die, life has not ended; it is merely transformed. It takes great humility to admit we have suffered through this kind of darkness, because it often sounds like a loss of faith to those who have not endured it. But when everything we thought we knew has turned to “nada,” in the language of John of the Cross, we actually become more loving and compassionate human beings, for we no longer rely on our own light but upon the Light of the world living within us.

Reference:
Joan Chittister, Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life (Image: 2015), 19-20.

Image credit: Helen Keller, no. 8 (detail), 1904, Whitman Studio, The Helen Keller Foundation; colorist, Jared Enos.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Not knowing or uncertainty is a kind of darkness that many people find unbearable. . . . The very meaning of faith stands in stark contrast to this mindset. We have to live in exquisite, terrible humility before reality. In this space, God gives us a spirit of questing, a desire for understanding. In some ways it is like learning to “see in the dark.” —Richard Rohr

Lightlessness

Darkness

Lightlessness
Tuesday, December 3, 2019

I have shared the writings of Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister many times. She is a tireless advocate for the poor and marginalized, and she is also a brilliant and prolific writer, with more than fifty books to her credit. She writes here of the effects of literal darkness or the absence of light:

Psychologists tell us that one of the most difficult conditions a person can be forced to bear is light deprivation. Darkness, in fact, is often used in military captivity or penal institutions to break down an individual’s sense of self. Once a person becomes disoriented, once they lose a sense of where they are . . . once they can no longer feel in control of their physical surroundings—a person loses a sense of self. Every shred of self-confidence shrivels. The giant within them falls and they become whimpering prey of the unknown. The natural instinct to be combative is paralyzed by fear. The spirit of resistance weakens. The prisoner becomes more pliable, more submissive, more willing to take directions.

It disarms a person, this fall into the sinkhole of sensory deprivation. It can drive them to madness. It is, every military knows, an effective technique. . . .

Simple as it may seem, when the lights go out, we simply lose our bearings. The density of the dark makes it impossible for us to fix our positions anymore. We find ourselves alone in the universe, untethered and unprepared. . . . Lightlessness leaves us no internal compass by which to trace or set our steps. Unlike [the] blind, few [sighted people] ever learn to develop our other senses enough to rely on them for information about the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Interestingly enough, it is those who consider themselves sighted who are most limited without light. And so, in the end, the [dimness] undermines the average [sighted] person’s self-confidence, affects their vision, leaves them totally vulnerable to the environment and out of touch with the people around them. And that is only its physical effects.

The darkness of the soul is no less spiritually punishing than is the loss of physical light to the psyche. We talk about faith but cannot really tolerate the thought of it. It’s light we want, not shadow, certainty not questions. The aphotic, the place without images, is no less an attack on faith and hope than those periods in life when nighttime brings nothing but unclarity, nothing but fear. Where am I going? the soul wants to know. When will this be over? the mind wants to know. How can I get out of this sightless place I’m in? the heart demands.

The spiritual darkness Sister Joan describes can be a truly difficult and terrifying experience, but all the saints and mystics assure us that darkness will never have the last word. The Scriptures promise us that the Light shines on in the darkness and will not be overcome by it (see John 1:5).

Reference:
Joan Chittister, Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life (Image: 2015), 17-19.

Image credit: Helen Keller, no. 8 (detail), 1904, Whitman Studio, The Helen Keller Foundation; colorist, Jared Enos.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Not knowing or uncertainty is a kind of darkness that many people find unbearable. . . . The very meaning of faith stands in stark contrast to this mindset. We have to live in exquisite, terrible humility before reality. In this space, God gives us a spirit of questing, a desire for understanding. In some ways it is like learning to “see in the dark.” —Richard Rohr

Gaining New Traction

Darkness

Gaining New Traction
Monday, December 2, 2019

Experiences of darkness are good and necessary teachers. They are not to be avoided, denied, run from, or explained away. Even if we don’t experience clinical or diagnosed depression, most of us will go through a period of darkness, doubt, and malaise at some point in our lives. I hope during these times we can reach out to someone—a therapist, spiritual director, friend—to support us. And when we feel strong may we be the shoulder someone else can lean on.

There’s a darkness that we are led into by our own sin (the illusion of separation), and selfishness (living out of the false or separate self), and stupidity. We have to work our way out of this kind of darkness by brutal honesty, confession, surrender, forgiveness, apology, and restitution. It may feel simultaneously like dying and being liberated.

But there’s another darkness that we’re led into by God, grace, and the nature of life itself. In many ways, the loss of meaning, motivation, purpose, and direction might feel even greater here. Some call it “the dark night of the soul.” Yet even while we feel alone and that God has abandoned us, we can also sense that we have been led here intentionally. We know we are in “liminal space,” betwixt and between, on the threshold—and we have to stay here until we have learned something essential. It is still no fun and filled with doubt and “demons” of every sort. But it is the darkness of being held closely by God without our awareness. This is where transformation happens.

Of course, the darkness that we get ourselves into by our own “sinful” choices can also become the darkness of God. Regardless of the cause, the dark night is an opportunity to look for and find God—in new forms and ways. Neither God nor goodness exist only in the light but permeate all places, seen and unseen. It seems we have to “unknow” a bit every time we want to know in a new way. It is like putting your car in reverse in the mud and snow so that you can gain a new track and better traction.

United Church of Christ pastor and Living School “sendee” Mark Longhurst describes how both light and dark are essential for transformation.

In spirituality . . .  we elevate the light over the darkness and praise the light and expel the darkness. Light conquers the darkness, the darkness will not overcome the light, John’s Gospel says [1:5]. . . . The more Genesis works its wisdom on me, though, the more light and darkness seem bound up together. . . . God separates light from darkness, but they both need each other, and they both bear the breath of God. This, too, I think, is the truth of our lives. The light and the darkness are bound up with one another. Spiritual transformation does not happen only on the light level. We have to do the inner work of facing the shadow, or repressed realities, of who we are, both the beautiful and the bad. Some of our most painful experiences in life—whether death, divorce, or disease—often turn out to create a capacity in us for greater love. What we think is light shows up in what we think is darkness—and vice versa. [1]

Periods of seemingly fruitless darkness may in fact highlight all the ways we rob ourselves of wisdom by clinging to the light. Who grows by only looking on the bright side of things? It is only when we lose our certainties that will we be able to deconstruct our false images of God to discover the Absolute Reality beneath all our egoic fantasies and fears.

References:
[1] Mark Longhurst, “Beyond Light Supremacy: Let There Be Light *and* Darkness,” Patheos (October 11, 2019), https://www.patheos.com/blogs/ordinarymystic/2019/10/beyond-light-supremacy-let-there-be-light-and-darkness/.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2001), 165-166.

Image credit: Helen Keller, no. 8 (detail), 1904, Whitman Studio, The Helen Keller Foundation; colorist, Jared Enos.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Not knowing or uncertainty is a kind of darkness that many people find unbearable. . . . The very meaning of faith stands in stark contrast to this mindset. We have to live in exquisite, terrible humility before reality. In this space, God gives us a spirit of questing, a desire for understanding. In some ways it is like learning to “see in the dark.” —Richard Rohr

Waiting and Unknowing

Darkness

Waiting and Unknowing
Sunday, December 1, 2019
First Sunday of Advent

Advent [meaning “coming”], to the Church Fathers, was the right naming of the season when light and life are fading. They urged the faithful to set aside four weeks to fast, give, and pray—all ways to strip down, to let the bared soul recall what it knows beneath its fear of the dark, to know what Jesus called “the one thing necessary”: that there is One who is the source of all life, One who comes to be with us and in us, even, especially, in darkness and death. One who brings a new beginning. —Gayle Boss [1]

I hope it isn’t difficult to understand why I’m beginning the Advent season reflecting on darkness. [2] I’m not trying to be a spoilsport, but once Thanksgiving is over, we in the United States are rushed headlong into the Christmas season. Yet Advent was once (and still can be) a time of waiting, a time of hoping without knowing, a time of emptying so that we can be filled by the divine Presence. Though you may be wrapping gifts, planning special meals, and spending time with family and friends, I hope you will also take time to allow the Advent darkness to do its work as well.

Not knowing or uncertainty is a kind of darkness that many people find unbearable. Those who demand certitude out of life will insist on it even if it doesn’t fit the facts. Logic and truth have nothing to do with it. If you require certitude, you will surround yourself with your own conclusions and dismiss or ignore any evidence to the contrary.

The very meaning of faith stands in stark contrast to this mindset. We have to live in exquisite, terrible humility before reality. In this space, God gives us a spirit of questing, a desire for understanding. In some ways it is like learning to “see in the dark.” We can’t be certain of what’s in front of us, but with some time and patience, our eyes adjust, and we can make the next right move.

The Gospel doesn’t promise us complete clarity. If God wanted us to have irrefutable proof, the incarnation of Jesus would have been delayed until technology and science could confirm it.

Scriptures do not offer rational certitude. They offer us something much better, an entirely different way of knowing: an intimate relationship, a dark journey, a path where we must discover for ourselves that grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness are absolutely necessary for survival in an uncertain world. You only need enough clarity to know how to live without certitude! Yes, we really are saved by faith. People who live in this way never stop growing, are not easily defeated, are wise and compassionate, and frankly, are fun to live with. They have a quiet and confident joy. Infantile religion insists on certainty every step of the way and thus is not very happy.

References:

[1] Gayle Boss, All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings, illus. by David G. Klein (Paraclete Press: 2016), xi-xii.

[2] For those readers unfamiliar with the Christian liturgical calendar, Advent is the period of four Sundays before Christmas. It is intended to be a time of preparation, through prayer and reflection, on the coming of Christ at the Nativity (Christmas), in worship and community today, and at the end times.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016), 100-101; and

Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 120.

Image credit: Helen Keller, no. 8 (detail), 1904, Whitman Studio, The Helen Keller Foundation; colorist, Jared Enos.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Not knowing or uncertainty is a kind of darkness that many people find unbearable. . . . The very meaning of faith stands in stark contrast to this mindset. We have to live in exquisite, terrible humility before reality. In this space, God gives us a spirit of questing, a desire for understanding. In some ways it is like learning to “see in the dark.” —Richard Rohr

Economy: Old and New: Weekly Summary

Economy: Old and New

Summary: Sunday, November 24—Friday, November 29, 2019

To understand the Gospel in its purity and in its transformative power, we have to stop counting, measuring, and weighing. We have to stop saying “I deserve.” Can we do that? It’s pretty hard . . . unless we’ve experienced infinite mercy and realize that it’s all a gift. (Sunday)

We are starving for spiritual nourishment. We are starving for a life that is personal, connected, and meaningful. —Charles Eisenstein (Monday)

The free market consumer ideology has produced a social disorder; people are no longer embedded in a culture that serves the common wealth, the common good. —Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann, John McKnight (Tuesday)

Ironically, the success of free enterprise capitalism depends upon moral values, such as honesty and compassion, that are borrowed from elsewhere. Without such supporting values, free enterprise (or any other economic system) would eventually self-destruct through its own excesses. —Arthur Simon (Wednesday)

Rather than scarcity’s myths that tell us that the only way to perceive the world is there’s not enough, more is better, and that’s just the way it is, the truth of sufficiency asserts that there is enough for everyone. Knowing there is enough inspires sharing, collaboration, and contribution. —Lynne Twist and Teresa Baker (Thursday)

Relationships are our most powerful and reliable 401k. I’m not saying I don’t believe in universal health care, social security, or other public services, but I do think Jesus is saying the real security system is how we relate, how we love. (Friday)

 

Practice: Activism as a Spiritual Discipline

Pope Francis often says, “This economy kills.” [1] The divide between the wealthy and the poor in the United States continues to grow. A handful of billionaires are literally “making a killing,” while millions who live below the poverty line are “making a dying,” and very few make a fair living. Just one tangible example: without access to affordable health care, roughly “40 percent of Americans [take] on debt because of medical issues.” [2]

How might we participate in co-creating a new economy that is more equitable for all? Jim Wallis writes, “While it is good to protest, having an alternative is better.” [3] And as you may have heard me say before, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” More and more companies are practicing fair trade, reducing waste, using renewable resources, and investing in healthy communities and ecosystems.

The title of Sharif Abdullah’s excellent book, Creating a World that Works for All, is an invitation to us all to participate. In the following excerpt, he invites us to a lifelong practice of the better, the art of being a “Mender” who consciously seeks out opportunities to practice interconnection and interdependence with other beings, which are indeed foundational to any new economy. Abdullah writes:

Being a Mender, an activist for an inclusive society, is a spiritual discipline. We practice a different kind of spirituality: the spirituality of turbulent times [what Barbara Holmes calls crisis contemplation]. Working to alleviate suffering is the way we practice our faith. We try not to act from anger or fear. We act because, in this life we have been given, we believe we can help make things better.

Acting out of compassion to lessen suffering and improve the lives of others is the way we celebrate the Spirit. Knowing that each of our acts, however small, builds the vitality of the Web of Life brings us joy, satisfaction, and power.

In the Spirit-driven model, it doesn’t matter whether a person is “successful” in changing the condition. While practical goals are important, the spiritual goal is to awaken the compassion that lies at the root of all change. “Success” doesn’t mean I’ve saved an endangered species or cleaned up a toxic waste dump or fed hungry children. Success means awakening myself in the Spirit that can help make a better life for others. Success means I have acted in the world as though I were a part of it, not apart from it. Success means becoming conscious of and faithful to my values and to my soul. [4]

We are Menders [when] we believe the Earth and our fellow humans need to be healed from the excesses of exclusivity, and we live our daily lives in accordance with this belief. . . . Our goal is to live as a consciously integral part of a living, conscious, and sacred planet. [5]

You can cultivate Mender skills by developing the following:

  • Your Mender self seeks to transcend the individual self, and desires transcendent experiences.
  • Your Mender self is holistic and ecologic, desires peace and sustainability, and thinks in terms of global realities.
  • Your Mender self desires to practice compassion—for self, others and the more-than-human environment.
  • Your Mender self celebrates and explores its differences from and similarities to The Other. [6]

How will you practice being a Mender today?

References:
[1] Pope Francis outlines key economic struggles in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), his first Apostolic Exhortation (November 24, 2013), http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html, 53-60.

[2] The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America 50 Years After the Poor People’s Campaign Challenged Racism, Poverty, the War Economy/Militarism and Our National Morality, https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/audit/, 10.

[3] Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (Harper Collins: 2005, 2006), 280.

[4] Sharif Abdullah, Creating a World that Works for All (Berrett-Koehler Publishers: 1999), 151.

[5] Ibid., 122.

[6] Ibid., 131.

For Further Study:
Sharif Abdullah, Creating a World that Works for All (Berrett-Koehler Publishers: 1999)

Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann, John McKnight, An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture (John Wiley and Sons, Inc.: 2016)

Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society in the Age of Transition (Evolver Editions: 2011)

Doug Lynam, From Monk to Money Manager: A Former Monk’s Financial Guide to Becoming a Little Bit Wealthy—and Why That’s Okay (W Publishing Group: 2019)

Richard Rohr, Homilies (September 2019), “Capitalist Economy and Gift Economy” and “Money

Arthur Simon, How Much Is Enough?: Hungering for God in an Affluent Culture (Baker Books: 2003)

Lynne Twist with Teresa Barker, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.: 2003, 2017)

Image credit: Le Denier de la Veuve (The Widow’s Mite) (detail), James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: As long as we operate inside any scarcity model, there will never be enough God or grace to go around. Jesus came to undo our notions of scarcity and tip us over into a worldview of absolute abundance. The Gospel reveals a divine world of infinity, a worldview of enough and more than enough. The Christian word for this undeserved abundance is “grace.” It is a major mental and heart conversion to move from a scarcity model to an abundance model and to live with an attitude of gratitude. —Richard Rohr

Finding Security in Relationships

Economy: Old and New

Finding Security in Relationships
Friday, November 29, 2019

No servant can serve two masters. They will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon. —Luke 16:13

I encourage you to read Luke 16:1-13, which provides context for the final verse, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Jesus creates a clear dualism between God and what he calls “mammon.” Mammon was the god of wealth and money, superficiality and success. Jesus says we’ve eventually got to make a conscious choice here.

Most of Jesus’ teaching is what we call nondual, for example: “Let the weeds and the wheat grow together” (Matthew 13:30); “My Father’s sun shines on the good and the bad” (Matthew 5:45). But there are some areas where he’s absolutely dualistic, either/or—usually anything having to with the poor or with money! I believe Jesus is dualistic on these topics because he knows what most of us are otherwise going to do, that most of us will serve mammon. We’re wired to focus on short-term, practical gains. And, of course, money often does solve our short-term problems.

But I hear Jesus saying that a long-term solution is to seek relationship over money. I saw this at work most clearly when I was able to preach in many “poor” countries that don’t have the same kinds of infrastructure and safety nets that so-called “developed” countries do. (At the same time, I must note that much of the poverty around the world is due to exploitation and colonization by industrialized countries. I refuse to romanticize the economic deprivation of much of the world’s population.)

Some folks who may not have a 401k or retirement fund rely on their family and community as insurance. They stick together much better than many financially comfortable people do. When we’re well off, we often don’t need or care about one another. When our very survival depends upon it, we are more likely to love and honor our parents, to treat our children with care and respect—because we need each other. Relationships are our most powerful and reliable 401k. I’m not saying I don’t believe in universal health care, social security, or other public services, but I do think Jesus is saying the real security system is how we relate, how we love. These, he says, are the eternal dwellings that last forever.

In her book, The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist points out that modern science is discovering a similar truth in nature. She writes:

Contrary to those models of Nature as innately, intensely, and almost exclusively competitive, more recent scientific study has illuminated the powerful role of mutuality, synergy, coexistence, and cooperation in the natural world. . . .

The idea that scarcity and competition are just the way it is is no longer even viable science. Respected evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris notes that Nature fosters collaboration and reciprocity. Competition in Nature exists, she says, but it has limits, and the true law of survival is ultimately cooperation. . . .

Sahtouris and others note that contrary to the competitive theme that “survival of the fittest” connotes, a more accurate description would be “survival of the cooperative and collaborative.” [1]

I (Richard) can’t help but wonder what makes it so hard for us to think this way!

References:
[1] Lynne Twist with Teresa Barker, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.: 2003, 2017), 152-153.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Money,” Homily (September 22, 2019), https://cac.org/podcasts/money/.

Image credit: Le Denier de la Veuve (The Widow’s Mite) (detail), James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: As long as we operate inside any scarcity model, there will never be enough God or grace to go around. Jesus came to undo our notions of scarcity and tip us over into a worldview of absolute abundance. The Gospel reveals a divine world of infinity, a worldview of enough and more than enough. The Christian word for this undeserved abundance is “grace.” It is a major mental and heart conversion to move from a scarcity model to an abundance model and to live with an attitude of gratitude. —Richard Rohr

The Gift of Sufficiency

Economy: Old and New

The Gift of Sufficiency
Thursday, November 28, 2019
Thanksgiving in the United States

As long as we operate inside any scarcity model, there will never be enough God or grace to go around. Jesus came to undo our notions of scarcity and tip us over into a worldview of absolute abundance. The Gospel reveals a divine world of infinity, a worldview of enough and more than enough. The Christian word for this undeserved abundance is “grace.” It is a major mental and heart conversion to move from a scarcity model to an abundance model and to live with an attitude of gratitude. [1]

Lynne Twist, co-founder of The Pachamama Alliance, writes about the reality of abundance, which she calls “sufficiency,” in her excellent book The Soul of Money. The wisdom below might just nudge you over the line. Read with an open mind and heart.

We each have a choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind-set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don’t mean a quantity of anything. . . . Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough and that we are enough. . . .

When we live in the context of sufficiency, we find a natural freedom and integrity. We engage in life from a sense of our own wholeness rather than a desperate longing to be complete. We feel naturally called to share the resources that flow through our lives—our time, our money, our wisdom, our energy, at whatever level those resources flow—to serve our highest commitments. . . .

Sufficiency as a way of being offers us enormous personal freedom and possibility. Rather than scarcity’s myths that tell us that the only way to perceive the world is there’s not enough, more is better, and that’s just the way it is, the truth of sufficiency asserts that there is enough for everyone. Knowing there is enough inspires sharing, collaboration, and contribution. . . .

Grounded in sufficiency, money’s movement in and out of our life feels natural. We can see that flow as healthy and true, and allow that movement instead of being anxious about it or hoarding. In sufficiency, we recognize and celebrate money’s power for good—our power to do good with it—and we can experience fulfillment in directing the flow toward our highest ideals and commitments. When we perceive the world as one in which there is enough and we are enough to make the world work for everyone everywhere, with no one left out, our money carries that energy and generates relationships and partnerships in which everyone feels able and valued, regardless of their economic circumstances. . . .

No matter how much or how little money you have flowing through your life, when you direct that flow with soulful purpose, you feel wealthy. You feel vibrant and alive when you use your money in a way that represents you, not just as a response to the market economy, but also as an expression of who you are. [2]

On this holiday in the United States, when many of us pause to give thanks, let us consider how we can allow what we have in “sufficiency” to flow from us, no matter what it is—compassion, joy, humility, time, and yes, even money.

References:
[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 184-185.

[2] Adapted from Lynne Twist with Teresa Barker, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.: 2003, 2017), 74, 75, 87, 103, 119.

Image credit: Le Denier de la Veuve (The Widow’s Mite) (detail), James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: As long as we operate inside any scarcity model, there will never be enough God or grace to go around. Jesus came to undo our notions of scarcity and tip us over into a worldview of absolute abundance. The Gospel reveals a divine world of infinity, a worldview of enough and more than enough. The Christian word for this undeserved abundance is “grace.” It is a major mental and heart conversion to move from a scarcity model to an abundance model and to live with an attitude of gratitude. —Richard Rohr

Moral Capitalism

Economy: Old and New

Moral Capitalism
Wednesday, November 27, 2019

I’m afraid that some readers have given up on this week’s meditations by now, convinced that I hate capitalism and money and that I don’t even believe people should get paid for a hard day’s work. That’s just not true! I’m not going to say capitalism is wrong in all aspects; it does some very real and significant good. But we must be able to offer an honest critique of a system if we want to find a better way forward. In this excerpt, Arthur Simon, a Lutheran minister, deals fairly with capitalism, praising what it does well and encouraging us—especially those of us with power and privilege—to do better. 

For all the good it can do, . . . free enterprise capitalism has grave defects. . . . Capitalism stimulates and thrives on our human desire to possess more, a desire that instinctively gravitates toward greed, which tends to create disparities that make some rich, while leaving many impoverished. It is good at generating wealth, not so good at spreading it around. . . . There is nothing wrong with profit if it is obtained honestly and justly and used in a godly way. But the profit motive appeals to our acquisitive nature. It nourishes greed and can make us callous to the suffering of others. In short, the genius of free enterprise is also its central problem.

Left to its own devices, free enterprise capitalism would ruin the environment and let people starve. As a result, no nation leaves free enterprise entirely on its own. Every country will devise policies that, at least to some extent, guide free enterprise toward serving the wider public good, in this way acknowledging that while free enterprise may be a remarkable engine for driving economic growth, an engine is not the same as a steering wheel.

Every one of the fifty United States offers free public education and requires school attendance at least through the age of sixteen. Despite shortcomings, that policy helps to equalize opportunity and prepare young people to participate productively in the U.S. economy. By itself, free enterprise would not do this. But the public has decided to spread some of its wealth to all citizens through education, to the benefit of everyone, including private enterprise, which is rewarded with better trained and more innovative workers and leaders. . . .

Ironically, the success of free enterprise capitalism depends upon moral values, such as honesty and compassion, that are borrowed from elsewhere. Without such supporting values, free enterprise (or any other economic system) would eventually self-destruct through its own excesses.

To work its magic for the economy, free enterprise needs plenty of room and not too many restraints. But to achieve public justice, free enterprise, like the urge to consume, needs to be tamed and guided. That requires a delicate balance, one that is endlessly debated, but which touches the central nerve of justice—not justice as an abstract idea, but as basic opportunity for children and others whose lives frequently hang in the balance.

That kind of justice is an affair for the soul for each of us. But people of means have a special obligation before God to ensure justice for those who are poor and vulnerable. With greater affluence comes corresponding responsibility to make sure that a system that has been generous to oneself is also generous to others.

Reflecting on Simon’s message, consider: How do Gospel values like justice, compassion, and generosity make their way into your economic decisions? Do they carry the same weight as your desire for material things?

References:
Arthur Simon, How Much Is Enough?: Hungering for God in an Affluent Culture (Baker Books: 2003), 18, 104-105.

I also highly recommend Doug Lynam’s From Monk to Money Manager (W Publishing Group: 2019), another fine book on this subject that seeks to be fair to both sides of the argument; the author is a friend of mine who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Image credit: Le Denier de la Veuve (The Widow’s Mite) (detail), James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: As long as we operate inside any scarcity model, there will never be enough God or grace to go around. Jesus came to undo our notions of scarcity and tip us over into a worldview of absolute abundance. The Gospel reveals a divine world of infinity, a worldview of enough and more than enough. The Christian word for this undeserved abundance is “grace.” It is a major mental and heart conversion to move from a scarcity model to an abundance model and to live with an attitude of gratitude. —Richard Rohr

Departing the Consumer Culture

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Economy: Old and New

Departing the Consumer Culture
Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Authors and scholars Peter Block, John McKnight, and Walter Brueggemann partnered to write An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture, which describes the shifts in thinking that could create a post-consumer economy. It sounds a lot like the Gospel to me.

Economic systems based on competition, scarcity, and acquisitiveness have become more than a question of economics; they have become the kingdom within which we dwell. That way of thinking invades our social order, our ways of being together, and what we value. It replicates the kingdom of ancient Egypt, Pharaoh’s kingdom. It produces a consumer culture that centralizes wealth and power and leaves the rest wanting what the beneficiaries of the system have.

We invite you to a journey of departure from this consumer culture. We ask you to imagine an alternative set of economic beliefs that have the capacity to evoke a culture where poverty, violence, and shrinking well-being are not inevitable—a culture in which the social order produces enough for all. . . . This departure into another kingdom might be closer to the reality of our nature and what works best for our humanity. . . .

Luckily, the exodus from a consumer, globalized culture into a neighborly, localized communal and cooperative culture has begun. We join the chorus of other agents of the alternative economy: food hubs, cooperative and social enterprises, the climate change activists, health activists, [etc.]. . . .

Neighborliness means that our well-being and what really matters is close at hand and can be locally constructed or produced. In this modern time, neighborliness is considered quaint and nostalgic. To make neighborliness the center of our social order requires an act of imagination. It is counter-cultural. It is also a form of social interaction that is built on a covenant that serves the common good. . . .

The consumer and market authority we live within violates neighborly relations by stratifying social power according to money and its attendants—privilege, competition, self-interest, entitlement, surplus. The dominant modes of current social relationships fend off neighborliness at all cost, and at great cost.

The [current] market ideology says that neighborly relationships are no longer required. That we are best ordered by commercializing all we can. That what we needed from neighbors can be obtained anywhere. . . . The major early step toward the modern cultural reality was “enclosure,” the privatizing of the common land. . . . Every human endeavor is monetized. . . . When a person’s effort was converted to wage earner, a person became an object. . . .

We moved away from the neighbor as a source of culture, memory, sense of place, and livelihood. . . . The casualty was a loss of a sense of the commons. What is at stake in the renewal of neighborliness is the restoration of the commons. [1] The free market consumer ideology has produced a social disorder; people are no longer embedded in a culture that serves the common wealth, the common good.

References:
[1] “The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commons)

Adapted from Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann, John McKnight, An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture (John Wiley and Sons, Inc.: 2016), xiv, xviii-xix.

Image credit: Le Denier de la Veuve (The Widow’s Mite) (detail), James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: As long as we operate inside any scarcity model, there will never be enough God or grace to go around. Jesus came to undo our notions of scarcity and tip us over into a worldview of absolute abundance. The Gospel reveals a divine world of infinity, a worldview of enough and more than enough. The Christian word for this undeserved abundance is “grace.” It is a major mental and heart conversion to move from a scarcity model to an abundance model and to live with an attitude of gratitude. —Richard Rohr
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