Thank you, Lynn, for that reading. Ross Gay is one of my favorites. And that short, lyrical piece “Sharing a Bag” is one of 102 essays published in his 2019 compilation entitled “The Book of Delights.” Gay spent a year writing them, recording everywhere he went, the small joys, shared bonds, often overlooked delights that swim around us humans all day. In an interview he said that, “in the course of writing this…I became acutely aware [of]…the simple and subtle and almost accidental…kindnesses that we’re constantly in the midst of.” He has, over many years, openly spoken and written about his lived experience as a black man in America depending upon this attention to beauty and kindness and delight that indeed abounds in this our shared land of plenty.
This book makes its home next to my morning meditation nook. When I bought it, each essay became a daily reading–this is something my husband Jason and I do to start our day, read, and then sit quietly together for about 20-30 minutes. It’s a wonderful practice to start your day with–reading from The Book of Delights. Especially in days such as these.
And I’ll tell you why. Because orienting yourself to that which is beautiful, delightful, life-giving–this orientation serves as a vital and necessary reminder that more abundance and good and hope abounds than does the opposite.
So now we need to talk about scarcity. Lauren has already helped us with this today. “The scarcity myth– this is what many economists, social scientists, and liberation theologians are calling the foundation upon which we live on. All things growing up out of it. You know this myth well. You and I, we were born into it, raised up in it, as were our parents, our grandparents, and beyond. It’s in the collective waters–whether we realize it or not. It’s the result of those oppressive systems that I preached about earlier this month, and we are working hard to dismantle them, right?
So let me break this down a bit for you. First, we are inundated every day with the messaging that tells us both explicitly and implicitly that there is not enough to go around. Act now, buy now, save now, or you are going to miss out. There won’t be more so get it and keep it while you can. And this drives so many of our decisions, mostly completely unconscious. For if there’s not enough for everyone, then taking care of yourself and your own, even at others’ expense, seems unfortunate, but unavoidable, and somehow…valid.
Interestingly, being driven by there’s not enough to go around does not make us mindful of, for example, Earth’s precious resources. It does not create in us a spirit of gratitude or using/buying/taking only what we need because there’s not enough to go around. It, instead, drives a competitive culture of accumulation, acquisition, and greed. We become the pizza people. It also fuels that pesky part of us that is always preparing for the worst and looking for how things aren’t going to work out, rather than how they are. For when we live our lives driven by the spirit of scarcity we live in a constant state of “what if”. What if this or that catastrophe strikes? What if I need this someday? What if I lose something? What if, what if, what if. It’s not just the big bullies in Russia or out there. It’s in all of us. And, most often, what sits comfortably next to the “what if’s”, is the constant and nagging feeling of “I don’t or won’t have enough, so I’m not enough.” One need only to take a few minutes to look at how many ads–on radios, billboards, tv, the internet and beyond–to notice the not-so-implicit message that we aren’t successful enough; attractive enough; thin enough; sexy enough; smart enough; happy enough; productive enough…Feel free to shout out any others. Scarcity. Scarcity. More scarcity.
And the insidiousness of this orientation ultimately leaves us resigned. Stuck in apathy. That’s just the way it is. Oh yes, the myth of scarcity keeps the masses in a state of hopelessness. I don’t see another way, this is the reality we live in, nothing I can do but hold on to what I do have…
- There’s not enough to go around.
- More is better.
- That’s just the way it is.
It’s a kind of unholy trinity, right?
Just for fun, for the delight of it, let’s invert this:
- There is more than enough to go around, and I have so much to give.
- Take only what I need, and I will surely know peace and love and joy.
- The world is brimming with hope and promise and beauty.
This is a spirit of abundance. And it is counter cultural. Can you imagine for a moment if all that we did, bought, saved, governed was firmly rooted to this kind of orientation, this kind of marketing campaign? Can you imagine if commerce and the news’s scroll reflected this?
Our holy prophets, our sacred texts, all point to this orientation by the way. One need only know God’s gift of Manna bread, the great, nourishing, spirit-infused bread in the Hebrew Bible given to the exiled people of Israel as a symbol of enough-ness, of great abundance and promise. Taught, through it, that the world God created in that beautiful myth is a world of abundant blessing, even in the face of atrocity and despair, with plenty for everyone. Yes, the spiritual life, organized religion, was and is meant to be this place of abundance. There is plenty for everyone here in this house of welcome.
It’s Stewardship Sunday today. And tomorrow marks the official opening of this congregation’s Annual Appeal, where each of you–member and friend–are asked to consider what you can pledge to give to this your spirit’s home so that we can meet our budget and pay for all the wonderful things that this church does both within and beyond these our blessed walls.
And I’m going to be straight with you. Long ago when I sat in the pews as a member of my church during pledge month, I would zone out a bit. It’s true.
Here’s a confession (I mean we are at church so I guess this is the place for it) sometimes I would skip some of those services because I had made my pledge, or in a few of those years thought I didn’t have enough to pledge, and felt like I didn’t need to sit through the month’s pitch. Not unlike the feeling I have when NPR arrives at its fundraising time–you are all UU’s I know you love WBUR–and, if you’re like me, once you give, if you even give at all, you turn the channel.
And the fundraising folks at WBUR, bless their hearts, are working overtime for this not to happen, right? For the next 30 minutes if you give, you’ll get a tote bag and a key chain! Become a sustained giver and be entered into our sweepstakes where you can win an iPad, or tickets to Elton John, or even a new car!!!!
And don’t get me wrong, I 100% support and value independent journalism, but so often fundraising can play upon our transactional, consumerist mindset. I’ve got to get something in return. What’s in it for me? And it’s the only way to keep our attention. And often, if this isn’t articulated or promised or explicitly given in an object that arrives on our porches, we’re out.
Spoiler alert: we don’t have any Hamilton tickets or new Priuses to give out this year for those of you who pledge.
I joke but say this with seriousness: we have something way better to give. We offer this blessed month in a church year, where each of you get to be radical. We UU’s love to be radical and counter-cultural right? We are offered the invitation to embody and point our faith in the direction of abundance. And the prayer here is that you will know, deep in your hearts, that you have so much to give to this house of peace and hope and possibility. And that there is joy to be found in giving it, without fear or what if’s driving your pledge or your non-pledge, but rather with the faith that we here in this place, give as an outpouring of love and nourishment and plenty. Like that Manna Bread. So that others might be sustained by it, so that our spirits are sustained by it.
And this time of invitation isn’t just about dollars and cents. It’s a time for you to consider where in your life you perpetuate the myth of scarcity. Choose it by default. In your relationships, in your relationship to time and work, in your faith or faithlessness; in love, in your understanding of hope, or goodness. This is all connected to our relationship with money and giving. Saving and spending.
And, for myself, I am working hard to untangle myself from a scarcity mindset that leaves me believing that I need to perpetually prepare for the worst in order to be a responsible citizen, a good citizen, or engaged in the work of liberation and justice in the world.
And let us return for a moment to Ross Gay’s delight in the seemingly inconsequential act that is Sharing a Bag, where he describes the awkward tethering, the needed modulation required, the whacked shins…for what? To carry a bag or sack that could be done just fine solo?? “Yes,” he says, “Yes, it’s the lack of necessity of this act that’s perhaps precisely why it delights me so. Everything that needs doing–getting the groceries or laundry home—would get done just fine without this meager collaboration. But the only thing that needs doing, without this meager collaboration, would not.”
Our choosing abundance might feel unnecessary. It might feel awkward. It will most certainly whack you in your shins and ask you to adjust your modulation. And most likely, things will go on getting done just fine without it. But the only thing that really needs doing: meaning and faith and boundless love, widened, stretched circles and WOW prayers. Holy heart transplants. Nourishment in the desert. Kindness. A deep, deep feeling of interdependence. Connection. Love for your fellows. Overflowing cups and leaping joyful shouts and music in our hearts. Dance and song and tears of gratitude. Peace like a river, joy like a fountain…Abundance of life and love and vision. Delight in the day and breath in our bodies. Abundance. This, ALL THIS, this is the only thing that needs doing. Right?
And that, my dear friends, is the spirit of church. Faith. Mystery. Maybe even God.
As we move through this month, hold this close. Choose abundance. Practice it. Be radical. Be not afraid! Please don’t make your pledge and tune out. Let this time of giving be one that you carry everywhere. For friends, this world needs your abundant, I have enough and I am enough, self. Know that. Believe that. You have it to give. Just as you are.
And let us now dance and hum and allow our cups to runneth over as we take in I’ve Got Peace Like a River this morning!
Reverend Sophia Lyons
Rev. Sophia is committed to radical welcome and spreading the good news that is our bold Unitarian Universalist faith. Some of her areas of interest include interfaith partnerships, addictions ministry, spiritual direction, and working towards collective liberation for all. Rev. Sophia aspires to live her life and fulfill her ministry guided by spiritual seeking, big love, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.