Sunday, September 19, 2010

Enough, already!

Flaming chalice symbol (for Unitarian Universa...Image via Wikipedia
I gave this talk at James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation as the Pastoral Thought for the worship service titled "Spiritual Harvests: Accepting your highest good." Maison Cruz was the lead presenter. Bryan Verstegen provided music.
Good morning, good morning, good morning!
(Quieting response from congregation) Alright, that’s enough.

(Sternly) I said that’s enough.

(Hands on hips) I’ve had just about enough.

(Nonchalantly) Well! That’s enough of that!

“Enough”: I thought that was a good thing.

In fact, I’ve heard it said that you can’t have too much of a good thing.

It should follow, logically, that “enough” can’t ever be a bad thing.

So how much is enough? Is “enough” a “how much”? Is it an amount at all?

Or is it a state of mind?

I know I don’t make enough money.  I think. But what does that mean?

I have enough to eat. I have a place to live. Heat in the winter. Clean water. Shoes. I have a little boy. And that means I have enough to worry about. But I’ve never worried that maybe he might starve.

But I don’t have enough to buy a house. Or visit Spain. Or even my own hometown.

So naturally it seems to me that I’d be happier if had more. It’s like, I have enough. But I don’t have enough.

But enough still is better than not enough. That’s simple enough.

Or is it?
Keith Ellison (politician)Image via Wikipedia 
I want to share an excerpt from the current UUA World magazine. You probably have it at home – you might have looked at it enough times, saying you ought to read it – but you might not have had enough chance to read it. This is from a speech given by Keith Ellison at this summer’s UUA General Assembly. Ellison is a U.S. Representative from Minnesota. The speech is titled “There Is Enough.” 
Conveniently for me.

Ellison gives his take of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes:

[The disciples] looked at each other, and they looked at him and said, that’s not enough to feed all of these people. It’s not enough. They’ve got to go home. We can’t help them out…
And Jesus, he didn’t argue with them. He just started handing out food, and as the scripture goes, there was enough. There was enough … [T]he scripture says that after the meal, there was not just enough. There was more than enough, and they had to pick up what was left over.

Then Ellison suggests some ideas for what might have actually happened. He says he doesn’t know, but he seems to favor this one:

[M]aybe what happened is that the disciples’ perception of scarcity was misinformed and actually there was more than they understood there to be. Maybe there was abundance. Maybe there was radical abundance, though they saw scarcity.

Like the villiagers in the telling of “Stone Soup” we just heard, Ellison thinks maybe the disciples were looking at something that was actually enough, but their fear, their scarcity consciousness made them see it as not enough.

He goes on to make his larger point:

And you know, today, there’s enough. There’s enough for you and for me. There’s enough for the straight and the gay. …. We don’t have to throw anybody under the bus. We don’t have to chase anybody out the door... 

There’s enough. Right? But you know what? There may not be enough if we continue to spend more than any other nation on the military. …

There may not be enough if there’s greed, if there’s hoarding. There may not be enough if we take the bountiful oceans that we’ve been blessed with and we pollute them with fossil fuels that spill into our oceans. …

You know there may not be enough if we squander and waste what we have. There may not be enough if we devote all of our resources to war-making and killing and destruction. But there is enough, brothers and sisters, if we will embrace love….

Ellison’s assumption here is that “enough” is a good thing. We need to realize that we have enough, we have plenty, and not squander it and destroy it, because then we would have “not enough,” and “not enough” is a bad thing. That’s the assumption this reasoning is based on. That “enough” is a good thing.

But I wonder. Whether having enough might actually be the problem. A problem that it is very, very difficult for the human animal to overcome.

Guns, Germs, and SteelImage via WikipediaIn his book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” author Jared Diamond describes how inequity has come about in human societies. And how it has come to be the dominant pattern on earth.

It seems that whenever, wherever there’s not quite enough, people figure out how to share. How to get by. How to get along. But wherever there’s plenty – wherever there’s enough – there’s poverty. It’s a tragic paradox, but it tracks around the globe and through history.

For instance, wherever grain is cultivated – the Fertile Crescent, China, Mesoamerica, South America, the places where food production was independently developed – chieftains arise, and then kings. Right away, society splits into strata. Hierarchies.

Why? Why kings and grain? Why does grain mean kings?

It’s food that lasts long enough to store. It’s food that you can grow enough of to store. Stored in places. Places that can be controlled.

Now, right away, there are people with more, and people with less.

There’s so much food that not everyone has to spend their days hunting it and gathering it. Now some people can devote themselves to other things: and now there can be artisans. Stonemasons. Smiths. Scribes. Priests. Soldiers. 

Soldiers who can go out and get more territory to grow more food, and bring back slaves from those places. Slaves that can do the menial tasks that by now there’s technology to do. Like, slaves can build temples to communicate the message about following the king and listening to the priests to fulfill your role in producing the food – and by now all the other technologies – that make the society run that controls the flow and distribution of food. And all the other stuff. Stuff that you now need to live in that society.   

In this book, Diamond describes the Polynesian Islands, thouands of islands in the Pacific, with all different climates and conditions – how the toughest islands to live on were the most egalitarian, with sophisticated systems for conflict resolution.

In the subarctic Chatham Islands, for instance, the soil wasn’t rich enough for farming, so the Polynesian settlers had to revert to hunting and gathering. There was never quite enough for the population to grow, so they learned to keep one another going. They couldn’t kill each other; there weren’t enough people to spare. They had to learn to get along.

While in Hawaii, the soil was rich enough and there were enough inland streams for irrigation and the sun was warm enough to grow plenty of crops. There was building stone for sturdy dwellings and aquaculture to farm enough fish for plenty of protein. A tropical island paradise, right? Enough of everything! Plenty!

But here was despotism. Empire. Incessant and ferocious war. All this plenty was only for the kings and the ruling classes and the priests. Rations and bloodshed for everybody else.

In America’s Great Depression, when so many people didn’t have enough, in reality there was plenty. Plenty of wheat. Plenty of coal. Plenty of money! And you can’t have too much of a good thing, right? Unless it’s not where it needs to be.

And it seems that when we humans have enough, or more than enough, somebody gets control of it, and those people just won’t let it go, voluntarily.

I guess because they feel like if they do, they just won’t have enough.

Which brings us back to “enough” being a state of mind.

Today our corporate executives with multimillion dollar golden parachutes clearly don’t feel that a few hundred thousand dollars a year is enough. They need their income in the millions. But for them to have that, everybody else needs to have less. Less pay, less insurance, less time off. All those ridiculous expenses, those unreasonable perks, that are forcing them to place jobs overseas where people are happy – desperate! – to see them come, because they don’t demand so much. People who have a lower expectation of “enough.”

What does it all mean? What does it all add up to?

I would go on.

(Looks at watch) But I don’t have enough time.

Thank you.

Enhanced by Zemanta