Sermon: LIVING WITH ABUNDANCE, December 19, 1999 Rev. Dr. John Young
Most people are enslaved by a scarcity mentality. Most live as if there is not enough of whatever, as if the quantity desired is insufficient given the demand. The term, "scarcity," comes from a Latin root which means: "to pluck out." Most people pluck out whatever is available as if a failure to do so would cause them to starve. There is an alternative way to believe and to live, which is to live with an attitude of abundance. Abundance implies that there is enough, that quantities are ample to meet the demands. Abundance suggests a profusion or wealth, a situation of plenty. Abundance comes from a Latin root which means: "to abound."
Unitarian Universalism is an abundance mentality religion. Most religions are scarcity mentality religions. Scarcity religions argue that most people are condemned, are going to Hell, will fail to be saved, that life is a vale of tears, that most activities are evil, that most people are not to be trusted, that most people are ruled by the diabolical. The Jehovah Witnesses actually had a specific number of people that their writings said would go to heaven. Then, they were in a fix when more than their "holy number" became Jehovah Witnesses. Christians ostensibly base their theology on love, and, then, usually suggest that only people who officially identify as Christians are going to become worthy of God's love, that only true Christians will be saved. Other theological and ideological true believers: Western, Eastern, dominant or minority, spiritual or secular, tend toward a similar scarcity mentality. Some secular technocrats are equally narrow, and pervert science into scientism to argue for a flat universe, where institutions, cultures, and individual spirituality have no meaning. This becomes, in philosopher Ken Wilbur's phrase, "a dehumanized humanism and a disqualified universe."  Unitarian Universalism rejects these extremes. We are clearly focused upon helping people to live with abundance, to be saved from delusions of scarcity.
Sometimes things are scarce. There are situations when basic needs are not being met for those who sincerely want and need them. This sermon is not intended to suggest that scarcity never exists, nor that an abundance of everything is always available, if you only have a good attitude. We have all lived in situations where there was not enough of something: freedom or commitment, money or power, sex or love, food or friendship, health or safety, time or attention. However, so often, the pain, frustration, and blame are largely unnecessary because there is objectively enough, but it is inaccessible. Usually, it is inaccessible because most of the people, or the people with power in a situation, are living with attitudes of scarcity instead of living with an abundance mentality.
I am not just talking about other people. I am talking about us. Most of us feel busy. We do not feel like we have enough time to do what we want to do. Many of us, in fact, have more discretion over our time than most people do, yet, we feel uncomfortably busy. Few of us would admit that we have enough money or enough power. We feel that we need more money and/or power to do what we want to do, in order to accomplish what we want to accomplish. Yet, many of us, in fact, have more wealth and power than all but a tiny percentage of human beings in the whole history of the world. Have you noticed how easy it is to fill up all the available space that you have? Garages get too full to have room for their cars. Huge closets and dressers get stuffed with clothes. Our homes are filled with appliances and gadgets, until we are falling over them. Every bit of available space gets filled up with stuff. We do not feel like we have enough space, yet, most of us have more space than our ancestors would have dreamed of possessing. We feel as though primary things: time and space, money and power are scarce, when, for most of us, they are abundant compared to most people alive today, or compared to most people in the whole of human history. Our realities are beyond most others' fantasies for abundance, and, yet, we are feeling as though these basics are still scarce for us.
A feeling of scarcity is even more prevalent about our inner lives. Few of us are ready to admit that we receive more love than we deserve. Most of us would like to have more close friends than we now can celebrate. Many of you tell me that you wish that you had time to nurture and be nurtured by a larger community, like this congregation, but you just don't have the time. Or, even more often, you fret that if only you had time for spiritual reflection, meditation, a quiet, thoughtful inner life, but you just cannot create the space, time, ambiance, or culture which permits you to have time for yourself. What is happening here?
What is happening is a pervasive attitude of scarcity. We are surrounded by abundance; we are falling over possessions, yet, we don't feel that we have enough; we want MORE. Part of this is human nature. We have succeeded as a species by acquiring knowledge, skills, possessions, and power--by feeling like what we have is not enough, by being dissatisfied. It is in our blood, and it fills our cultures and sub-cultures. But, it also makes us angry, frustrated, and unhappy in many unnecessary and harmful ways. We will be happier, and the world will be a better place, when we can diminish, or even overcome, our delusions of scarcity, and we accomplish this by learning to live with attitudes of abundance. The trick, I believe, is not to want more but to want better, and to not want, primarily, better possessions for yourself, but a fairer distribution of the abundance available in the world, and a better balance of the time and resources available to you.
We also need to learn and to practice how to live happily with abundance. This is not easy. Abundance presents so many choices. Those who feel wealthy may be disabled by their wealth, lose their motivation, or become dependent upon what they already possess. And this is as true, for knowledge, or skills, as it is for possessions or money. We need to outgrow our delusions of scarcity in knowledge and skills as well as with possessions or money. We do also need to deal with the residual real pockets of genuine scarcity. If we learn to live with a philosophy of abundance, it can make an enormous positive difference in one's peace of mind, happiness, and effectiveness as a human being. We need to figure out how to live with abundance, to make the hard choices with which abundance confronts us.
I suggest that you begin and end each day with a sense of life's abundance. This, I would propose, is an essential quality of adequate thinking, meditation, or prayer. If we remember that life itself is a gift, not a given, nor a reward, but an unearned benefit, then we live with a strong sense of grace. This can be an act of faith, but it is also a realistic assessment. We may be sick, failing in work or relationships, mis-judged, condemned by others, even dying, and, yet, if we are able to remember that life is full of grace, that each day is a gift, then, with Unitarian Albert Schweitzer, we, truly, have reverence for life. Reverence for life both nurtures and demands an attitude of abundance, and rejects and overcomes illusions of scarcity.