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The Seven Stories: Part Two
The Seven Stories: Part Two

The Story of Accumulation

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Gareth Higgins shares why the story of accumulation, which is second nature to most of us in West, can be so damaging:

The accumulation story is about money and fear. It’s a story about being possessed by things rather than enjoying and sharing them. And it’s a story nested within a bigger story about how sometimes when we think we have more, we actually have less…. Whether it’s bigger sofas or bigger houses or bigger jobs or bigger bank accounts or reputation or ego or a bigger empire, we don’t have to look too far to find the accumulation story at work. The story that says we will achieve peace and security through having more things. It’s an expansionist narrative, but it doesn’t expand peace and security. The more you think you need to accumulate, the bigger fence you need to build around yourself and the fewer people you will trust and let into your life. It’s the inverse of what it means to live in true peace and security, which only comes in the context of relationship with people you can trust. [1]

Author Lynne Twist names the malignant effects of buying into the accumulation story:

Money has only the power that we assign to it, and we have assigned it immense power. We have given it almost final authority. If we look only at behavior, it tells us that we have made money more important than we are, given it more meaning than human life. Humans have done and will do terrible things in the name of money. They have killed for it, enslaved other people for it, and enslaved themselves to joyless lives in pursuit of it…. We all, at one time or another, have demeaned and devalued ourselves, taken advantage of people, or engaged in other actions we’re not proud of in order to get or keep money or the power we believe it can buy. [2]

Richard Rohr often critiques the story of accumulation:

Jesus is absolute about money and power because he knows what we’re going to do. Most of us will serve this god called mammon. Luke’s Gospel even describes mammon as a type of illness, as Jesuit John Haughey (1930–2019) explained: “Mammon is not simply a neutral term in Luke. It is not simply money. It connotes disorder…. Mammon becomes then a source of disorder because people allow it to make a claim on them that only God can make.” [3] “Mammon illness” takes over when we think all of life is counting, weighing, measuring, and deserving. 

To participate in the reign of God, we have to stop counting. We have to stop hoarding in order to let the flow of forgiveness and love flow through us. The love of God can’t be doled out by any process whatsoever. We can’t earn it. We can’t lose it. As long as we stay in this world of accumulation, of earning and losing, we’ll live in perpetual resentment, envy, or climbing. [4]

[1] Adapted from Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins, “Accumulation Stories,” Learning How to See, season 5, ep. 7 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2023), podcast. Available as MP3 audio and pdf transcript. For further resources, see The Seventh Story and The Porch Community.

[2] Lynne Twist with Teresa Barker, The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2003, 2017), 8–9, 9–10.

[3] John C. Haughey, The Holy Use of Money: Personal Finance in Light of Christian Faith (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1986), 11.

[4] Adapted from Richard Rohr, “We Cannot Serve Two Masters,” Daily Meditations, September 20, 2021.

Image credit: Joel and Jasmin Førestbird, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, public domain. Click here to enlarge image.

Stories are layered like the rings of a tree.

Story from Our Community:  

One of the gifts I receive from Daily Meditations is the words to name my own experience. When James Finley describes the deep peace that is possible in the midst of trauma, it reminded me of … [when] my 20 year old daughter was killed. In the midst of the most gut-wrenching grief, I felt God’s presence deep down. The pain and agony did not disappear but beneath those feelings, I also was aware of a sense of peace that I was loved by a present God. Thank you for reminding me of this. —Pat T.

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