Sunday, October 26, 2008

prosperity or abundance?

Recently I drove north to Vancouver, BC, to attend the Laing Lectures, which this year hosted Walter Brueggemann, a noted Old Testament scholar. Something that stood out to me during his lecture was his response to a question asked about the difference between prosperity, as in prosperity gospels, and what he was saying about the Old Testament envisioning abundance. In response to the question, Dr Brueggemann answered that prosperity as it is used in the contemporary context is about the individual; individuals want to have things for themselves, money for themselves, to feel a sense of self-satisfaction in this world. On the other hand, abundance is a term for a community experience.

Dr Brueggemann gave the illustration of parents with the Christmas tree, that if you give just lots of stuff to kids, then they can become spoiled. But if you give a few well-thought-out things, and if you play with your kids with what they receive, thoughtful gifts can actually be quite simple. When we talk about what it means to give our kids things that involve us in their lives, where they feel a sense that “we may not have had much, but we had a family that cared, and I had parents who knew who I was,” we are talking about abundance. So abundance, then, has this communal sense, and Dr Brueggemann suggested that we actually don’t have to have that much in order to feel abundance, whereas with prosperity, it always seems that we need more.

So I think there’s a helpful distinction here as we think about what it means for us, in our contemporary environment, to be people of abundance and create communities of abundance, which doesn’t mean having lots of stuff. It means taking time; it means having conversations; it means finding ways to work together, and maybe to hear the possible small things that each of needs and to find ways to meet those needs, but to recognize it is in community that we will ultimately feel a sense of abundance.

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