by Luke Roske-Metcalfe
As many of you know, the statement of faith I presented during my ordination process last year was framed by the proclamation of the God of Life, and included references to our God of Abundance. I am struck at how these particular images of God have remained in the forefront of my mind, and how I’ve been ruminating on them in the depths of my heart.
For me, this sort of theological pondering generally gets lost in the shuffle of my everyday life, replaced by figuring out what’s for dinner, paying bills, cleaning house, and working. In this case, however, that has not happened. In fact, these Scriptural images of God enter my daily life continually – be it through liturgy, relationships, in community, or conversations.
What I’ve been reflecting upon is the concept of the God of Life and God of Abundance in the context of my ministry with immersion programs here in Mexico City. Time after time I hear people from the U.S. or Canada make references to a God of Abundance or a God of Life, be it in prepared liturgies for worship or during our reflection times as groups. The rub for many people – myself included – comes when we joyfully proclaim a God of Abundance, yet are surrounded by abject poverty. How can this be when, as a community of faith, we proclaim a God who so loved the world that She sent her child so that we might have life, and have it abundantly?
During immersion programs I have found that many people inevitably come to the point where they find themselves in this very rub, asking these sorts of questions.
The questions often arise for group members after meeting their neighbors just to the south in a new way for the first time: through an academic discussion of the realities of Mexico (historic, political, economic, etc.); witnessing how roughly 70% of Mexicans earn a living working on the streets, selling everything from tacos and shoe shines to place mats and individual cigarettes; or visiting people in their homes, where the average household lives six to a room.
“How can this be…Why do we have so much and others have so little?” This is a question that people ask over and over anew during these immersion programs. This is the fundamental question that racks the brains and hearts of many… myself included.
As I mentioned, the images of our God of Life and God of Abundance have remained with me for several months now. I’ve been hearing this question – How can this be? – through the filter of our God who proclaims life and created a world of abundance.
Too often we understand this abundance to simply refer to wealth, stuff, or people’s well-being. Too often this abundance teeters on what some call the prosperity gospel, where faithfulness to church and God supposedly lead to economic well-being. Instead, consider that God’s Creation is abundant! Creation does provide everything that every living creature – including humanity – needs in order to live. Too often we forget that the inequalities we see are due to our own treatment of our neighbors and of Creation itself.
Often times the next question, right after, “How can this be?” is, “How can I share all that I have with others who have so little?”
How can I share? is a natural question when we meet, face-to-face, those who wonder where their next meal might come from, whose houses are smaller than our garages, whose wardrobe is considered extravagant when it includes socks.. It’s a natural question when we begin to examine our own lives. We often we consider abundance to be that our grocery carts are full, our 2 car-garages house stuff rather than cars, each room in our house has a television, our cupboards are so full that the groceries fill counter space, and our closets are stuffed with clothes which still have tags on them.
While the question of sharing is an important one, I would like to propose an alternative question: How much is enough? How much house is enough, how much food is enough, how much car is enough, how much wardrobe is enough, how much stuff is enough, how much free time is enough? How much is enough?
What about considering this question theologically? What if, along with our proclamations of the God of Abundance, God of Life, we seek to encounter the God of Enough in Scripture…
How much is enough? For many of us in the U.S., this might be a helpful question for those who live in a world of abundance.
What does it mean to have enough? Where does one draw the line and say, “That’s enough! I have enough! I’m done!” It would be as if one had reached a magic point along a personal scale and a light bulb went off, indicating that enough had been reached. Maybe that would be nice, but clearly that is not the case.
Honestly, I’ve held of in sharing this reflection with you because I don’t really know how to describe that point of reaching enough. Personally, I consider myself to have enough and plant myself right in the middle of abundance.
Recently, after a long conversation with a taxi driver in Mexico City, I had one of those “Come to Jesus” moments, where this image of the slippery concept of enough became as clear as the day after a heavy rain…crisp.
The driver asked me where I was from, and I said, “The U.S., Arizona.” He said he knew California. The conversation continued and I eventually asked why he came back. He said, “I earned enough money to put a good roof over my family’s head, and that’s all I needed.” I was stunned into silence, left with nothing else to say. I sat there speeding through Mexico City, watching as we zipped through red lights and turned right from the left-hand lane, with a smile. That is what it means to have enough.
So, as I begin to think about fatherhood and continue to work with groups here in Mexico, the question of what it means to have enough rumbles through my thoughts and heart. How will I parent a child to know what enough means? What will their world look like: will this child even face the dilemmas of affluence in 20 years? How might immersion groups come to draw their lines of enough?
It is my prayer that, as we come to know this God of Life and God of Abundance in our world today and in Scripture, we might also be able to identify enough.