Abundance: How Much is Too Much?

Last week I was checking citations for my book about the healing power of confession, and it gave me an occasion to revisit some of the essays in Mere ChristianityIt is a collection of radio addresses given by atheist-turned-Christian C.S. Lewis about the lowest common denominator of what it means to be Christian.  He begins the series with commentary on the human tendency to want to hold others to a standard of fair play.  Lewis calls this standard of fair play the Law of Human Nature, but it could also be called a moral compass or a chart that helps us navigate rights and wrongs.  Lewis takes pains to distinguish this Law of Human Nature from human instinct.  All our human instincts are good in the right context and bad in the wrong context, he asserts, so the Law is the set of rules defining what makes them right or wrong.

The so-called seven deadly sins are normal human inclinations, instincts or even gifts taken to excess, distorted or neglected.

  1. Lust distorts bodily expressions of the gift of love.
  2. Gluttony is our bodily need for sustenance taken to excess.
  3. Greed exaggerates material needs often to the point of hostility towards others.
  4. Envy excludes others from the desire for goodness to the point of sorrow for another’s good.
  5. Sloth is our need for rest taken to excess and reflects indifference to our gifts.
  6. Wrath perverts our sense of justice into revenge and spite.  It also includes excessive anger directed inward towards self.
  7. Pride, considered the most grave of the bunch, is placing one’s own will above all else and can corrupt love of self into contempt for others.

We can find sinfulness in our thoughts and actions when we allow any of our natural inclinations to overwhelm or to distract us.  To feed any obsession is to overlook the abundance of other gifts God put before us.  Failing to recognize, and failing to respond to, the abundance and grace in our lives is another, more subtle, way we veer off course into sin.

Those of us among the 5% of Earth’s population who reside in North America, who consume 25% of Earth’s energy and who eat enough extra calories every day to feed an additional 80 million people, can’t escape confronting our abundance.  While 925 million people in the world do not have enough to eat, making hunger and malnutrition the number one risk to health worldwide, the leading health risk to the poor in the United States is obesity.  Indeed, it is a land of abundance.

How we respond internally to the abundance around us informs what we do externally with our resources.  Both matter.  “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)

Join the conversation.  Are you humbled by the abundance of opportunity and comfort, wondering what on earth could be expected of you that would in any way measure to the abundance set before you?  Or have you grown so accustomed to worldly things that you feel entitled to them and, in fact, want more?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Veering Off

The ways we veer off course are as many and as individual as people on the planet.  We can’t make the corrections we need, though, until we recognize how we veered off.  The last post suggested that many of our strengths and shortcomings may flow from strengths and shortcomings in our spiritual lives.

When I said to forget about new year’s resolutions to lose weight or to save more for retirement, I didn’t mean that taking care of yourself or saving are not important and responsible things to do.  To make a personal confession here, I am constantly challenging myself about where I build up my treasure.  As a fervent saver and frugal if not stingy spender, it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to discourage saving for retirement.   Rather, the suggestion intended to provoke questions about what gets in the way of our intended destination.  There’s a saying that if one wants to know what his priorities really are, he need only look at his calendar and his bank account to see where his time and money are actually spent (or not spent).  Obstacles getting in the way of saving might be a desire for ever more stuff or maintaining a certain “standard of living” or hanging onto an asset we can‘t really afford hoping someday to cash in.  Realigning priorities can help overcome these obstacles.  Putting God in the center of my life and being “on course” spiritually doesn’t automatically fill my retirement account or make the pounds melt away, but re-centering my priorities may make it easier to follow through on the changes I need.

Different traditions use different language to describe our wrong turns.  Religious traditions call it sin.  Hebrew texts use three words for sin.  Chet translates literally to missing the mark.  Avon means desire, and pesha means rebellion.  Episcopal doctrine defines sin as squandering God’s blessings and “the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.”

“Sin” can be a religiously charged word, and the Twelve Step tradition avoids it altogether.  It focuses instead on the defects of character that underlie wrongdoing.  The Third Step in Twelve Step programs is deciding to align one’s course to God’s will and to surrender one’s own will where it departs from God’s will.  Surrender is a difficult step.  All of the Twelve Step recovery seekers I have known have spoken of turning their will over to God in a Third Step and “taking it back” at some point in their journeys.

Regardless of language or spiritual tradition, we all “miss the mark,” have “desires” that drag us off course, and “rebel” against the course we set for ourselves from time to time.  Those occasions may deplete our morale or dent our pride, but they harbor a great invitation—an invitation to turn back, to get back on course.  The next several posts will explore ways to recognize where we have veered off course so that we can accept the invitation to make the turns we need.

Join the conversation.  When you drill down on the things in your life that seem out of balance physically, emotionally or intellectually, can you trace the imbalance to spiritual roots?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.