How to live faithfully in an economic downturn
Written by Anthony B. Robinson
December 2008 - January 2009
"More of Everything" is the slogan for one of the big box retailers in our area. Its trucks roll by with those words emblazoned on the side: "More of Everything."
Suddenly that slogan seems less like glad tidings than it does a haunting, sad chiding. For some time now, we Americans seem to have worshipped a god named "More." More growth, more money, more experiences, more houses, more cars, more speed, more stuff. Always and everywhere more; always and everywhere pushing the limits. Now that seems to have backfired.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. Perhaps we aren't surprised.
There is a reason for limits. As any four-year-old who gets a hold of the cookie jar or a container of Cool Whip learns, there is such a thing as "too much of a good thing." There is a reason for limits. "More" is not always a good idea.
In classical Christian thought, human beings are of a dual nature. We are finite, made of earth, mortal and limited. And we are also free, and if not exactly infinite, then capable of going beyond the given circumstances. Finite and free, we have one foot on earth and one in heaven.
"What a piece of work is man," exclaimed Shakespeare's Hamlet as he contemplated the human being who is both "infinite in faculties" and a "quintessence of dust."
Life's great challenge is to give both parts their due. There is a time to push limits, cross boundaries, and go beyond what has previously been thought possible. And there is a time for acknowledging limits, for minding our boundaries, and respecting the rules.
Arguably, our strong suit as Americans has been the first: pushing the limits, crossing boundaries, and achieving what others haven't even tried. Is there a shadow side to this virtue? Our relentless pushing of the limits, our drive for "more of everything," has been one-sided and excessive. We have failed to take account of our finitude, to honor limits, to live with boundaries.
Are the present economic woes a judgment on our transgression and the failure to acknowledge and value limits and boundaries in the push for "More of Everything?"
The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd, Dean of the National Cathedral (Episcopal) in Washington D.C., writes that Americans worship not simply the god of wealth, but the god of "More." "This is the god who declares that we can live without limits, that more wealth, more growth, more spending must always be the way of the future. We have come to worship the golden calf of unlimited growth."
Lloyd quotes the Kentucky farmer and writer Wendell Berry: "The commonly accepted basis of our economy is the supposed possibility of limitless growth, limitless wants, limitless wealth, limitless natural resources, limitless energy and limitless debt. The idea of a limitless economy implies and requires a doctrine of general human limitlessness; all are entitled to pursue without limit whatever they conceive as desirable."
In the present challenges might we discern a divine chastening of excess and the doctrine of "general human limitlessness?"
Limitless growth may violate God's plan and ordering of life. Now may be a time to remember what we have too long seemed happier to forget: The wisdom of limits and the blessing of boundaries.
The Rev. Anthony B. Robinson, a UCC ordained speaker and author, teaches leadership at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto. This article is one in a collection of Writers Group produced reflections titled "Faith and Tough Economic Times: Pastoral Perspectives." Additional resources are available at www.ucc.org/stewardship/faith-and-tough-econmic-times/.