What is the only sin pretty much guaranteed to get us killed? You have to wonder as our airways are so filled with swagger, spit and venom all focused on what others have done or not done. I’d offer up a suggestion from one the prophets most familiar with nutty imagination, Ezekiel.
Ezekiel describes a lively lovers’ quarrel between God and his people ending (as lovers often do) in sorrow: “Cast away all the offenses that you have committed against me and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die…? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.” (Ezekiel 18: 31-2)
God cannot save us when we live as if God is not creative enough to create enough to go around. When we obey the law of not-enough fear cripples, blinds and then kills us.
There is obviously not enough to go around! So, of course I must grasp for my own. There is not enough land, water, money. Not enough healthcare, education or even food. It is folly to deny scarcity! And so we feel justified in leading a life, a family, a congregation or an organization assuming there is not enough for all, (but maybe enough for me). It would be downright irresponsible to act otherwise. From neighborhoods to nations you can see this fearful logic at work today. Just listen to the squabbling among the current batch of political dwarves blaming their god for their own mean and shrunken spirit.
But before we feel too good about how bad they are, we should hear ourselves whine about how hard it is to do church or health in the poorest, sickest city in the entire nation. God did a bad job from the start and then made it all worse by leaving us alone in a social wilderness. Blame God for our low ambition.
So Ezekiel speaks of the sorrow of God. Jesus wept, too, for his city did know how to live into shalom and its graceful abundance. God doesn’t have to exact revenge. We die when we deny God’s essential generosity. We make deadly choices rooted in scarcity, so fail to risk, invest and live into the future.
Franz Capra said that humans are dissipative systems that live not on what we grasp and hold, but on the stuff that flows through us. We eat and drink, but it moves through us. So too, a church or healthcare system holds nothing; everything flows through, living on the flow and only the flow. An individual can die from an impacted bowel, but a surgeon can fix that. What do you do for an impacted spirit? Not even the master of the universe can save us–unless we gain a whole new mind–of abundance. “Why will you die?” asks God? Turn.
It is now so normal to live in fear and scarcity, that it takes discipline to live otherwise. But we usually associate discipline with scarcity. There is not enough time, so we must be disciplined; not enough money, so we budget with discipline; not enough education, so we must make disciplined choices about who will learn and who will not; not enough healthcare, so we must… harden our hearts and discipline our minds. If the world really did not have enough, that would be appropriate. But scarcity thinking is lazy; living in the world of abundance demands disciplines that fit it.
Disciplines of abundance begin with a careful, thoughtful appreciative inventory of our assets–both tangible and intangible. Then we need a clear-eyed examination of what we could with them. I’ve learned this from my colleagues in Southern Africa who developed and deepened the idea of “religious health assets.” ( http://www.arhap.uct.ac.za/) Their disciplined thought changed the language of the World Health Organization, World Bank and United Nations. Now, the global network of institutions haven’t fully turned, in the biblical sense, but at least they’ve begun to notice that somebody (I’d say God) has placed a heck of a lot more stuff in the community than they thought was there. The careful methodology of mapping religious health assets in Zambia discovered that there were about six times more health organizations and networks operating in the community than the government knew anything about. This is about what we find anywhere we are disciplined enough to look. We brought that methodology to Memphis, adapted it and found the same thing. The model went back to Africa where it was again adapted and is now being used in all 135 health districts in South Africa to guide government and community planning so that it is informed by realistic abundance and not just scarcity.
Discipline is needed when you start mapping the strengths and assets because you find yourself drowning in what is possible. Where fear asks us to subtract and do less, we actually have more hope than we know what to do with. In Memphis’ iconic Yellow Fever story, the city almost died from bad water while living on top of the greatest freshwater aquifer on the planet.
The most generative abundance is found in the relationships God’s spirit constantly moves in and through us to create. God is connected to everything and everybody. So the connections among God’s people–all those that turn toward life–are infinite not just abundant. This is surely the abundance that we have been most undisciplined with.
The disciplines of abundance are a lot more fun than those rooted in bleakness scarcity.They live closely with all the creative arts, worship, celebration and the surprises generated constantly by faith, hope and love. Ezekiel and all the prophets of every religion knew it was a love story after all; of a God with no heart for vengeance, filled with sorrow for his people. “Why will you die?”