The Spirituality of Abundance & Scarcity – Part 2
— by Andy Wade —
Factory farmed tomatoes and other vegetables have brought us beautiful and abundant year-round fruit… with little flavor or nutritional value.
This is an unhealthy and dangerous trend. It’s a kind of monkey-wrench in the discussion of abundance and scarcity because, while it does produce an abundance of fruits and vegetables, their nutritional value has decreased, producing a scarcity of vitamins and minerals masked in a pretty package of bright, perfect, abundant crops. We have industrialized the production of food and created an unsustainable and unhealthy dependence on pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. We have created a short-term illusion of abundance with a near total disregard for the long-term effects.
So I began wondering: how have we, the body of Christ, mimicked this short-term, industrialized mentality in our various ministries and approaches to discipleship. I believe one of the areas we’ve done this is in our near full-embrace of the “American Dream” approach to building churches and programs. Bigger is better. Professional, glossy programs and productions are king. Small is only beneficial as it feeds into and supports the big projects and empire-building vision.
The “American Dream” is a dream we’ve exported around the globe through our politics, movies, and, dare I say it, many of our mission efforts (for an interesting assessment of the roots of the American Dream, check out this recent article from YES Magazine). It’s past time we woke up from this dream for it’s fast becoming a nightmare! Not only is the “American life-style” not sustainable, much of our take on Christian spirituality is driving us, and our churches, into both spiritual and economic bankruptcy.
Because of our lack of foresight and our addiction to replicating successful business models in the church, we have accumulated to the point that we have difficulty supporting the basic building and programs of the church, and have little time and energy left over for our community and world. Much of what we do has become a well-oiled, factory-faith machine. And like factory farms, our churches can begin to produce uniform, flavorless, Christian “goods” that lack foresight, imagination, and creativity.
Now lest you misunderstand and think I’m lumping all churches into this broad generalization, let me assure you, I’m not. But there is a worrying trend toward spiritual homogenization that deadens our ability to hear and respond to the creative Spirit of God in our communities. We need to be on our guard against this. While we don’t want to be cultivators of unorthodoxy, we do want to cultivate and represent the wild diversity and imagination of God.
One of the exciting areas of growth for Mustard Seed Associates is the emergence of Mustard Seed Village (MSV). With the goal of cultivating “sustainable faith and sustainable life-styles” in ourselves and others, MSV is sprouting up as a center for imaginative living, practical application, and formational spirituality.
Moving back to my lessons from the garden, because of our climate, there are certain plants that I can grow here in the Pacific NW of the USA, and plants that I cannot grow, or that don’t grow well. There are plants that I grow whose sole purpose is to attract beneficial insects and deter destructive insects. [You might think of these as the prophetic plants of the garden community] And finally, I’m careful to select plants that provide both a wide variety of color and texture and a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and flavor. This diversity results in a beautiful garden to look at while at the same time providing a rich and healthy diet.
Likewise in our churches, we need to discern our “climate” based on location and culture to see what will grow most vigorously. But not all of our activities as a church should be evaluated based on how big or how vigorously they grow. As a church, we are to have a prophetic voice into our communities and world. This prophetic voice is often misunderstood, unwelcome, or even neglected. But like my prophetic plants who stand guard over the garden, our voice as a people of God guards our faith community, city, and world from unhealthy and unjust systems and actions.
Finally, like my garden, we, as communities of faith, need to discern what will be most spiritually healthy, most nutritious, and best express the amazing diversity of our Creator to those inside and outside the church. This is by no means a one-size-fits-all approach. This takes hard work! It requires that together we assess current and future trends and how we can begin today to address them. It requires that we have an honest self-assessment of who we are and what we are willing and able to offer the world. And, most of all, it requires a substantial soaking with the waters of prayer, discernment, and biblical imagination. There are no formulas, although there is much we can learn from one another. There are no shortcuts, but we can draw on the experiences and expertise of those outside our community.
In short, a healthy spirituality of abundance and scarcity leads the community of faith to anticipate and prepare for the future so that they can become the hands and feet of Christ in a world of need.