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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." [270] 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.

Since Unitarian Henry David Thoreau went to Walden Pond, we have tried to remember to take time to savor the natural world. This possibility is open to each of us every day. When my mother was old and immobilized, she had to lie, for weeks, in a nursing home. She had only one little window she could see out of, toward the sky, but she waited to see birds, clouds, the Sun, moon, or stars through that window. She remained in touch with nature. Most of us are able to do so much better. We may take a few minutes of lunch time at a park, or at the beach. We may water flowers in our own yard or our home. Most of us, most weeks, can take an hour or two to get out into wild nature in extraordinary California.

Gandhi learned that as he ate less he enjoyed it more. This troubled him because he was, in some ways, an anti-sensualist. We, Unitarian Universalists, embrace the senses, but, we too, can learn to eat less and enjoy it more. As I age, I keep needing to give up some foods, to cut back somewhat on my alcohol consumption, to get more rest, and to take more medicines. However, I find that I enjoy my food more as I savor it better. To eat more slowly, to share it with others in conversation, to eat only what each of us can truly digest and enjoy, not only in the moment, but in the long run, is to consume abundance without becoming overwhelmed by it. Appetites are an indication, not an order.

We need to give ourselves appropriate direction, rather than being jerked around our whole lives by our impulsive appetites. Many human beings are faced with possible sexual abundance most of their lives. We are physically maturing earlier and remaining healthier, and alive, much longer. Unlike most other animals, we are almost always potentially sexual. So, we have to make continuous choices. UU's certainly do not think that sex is evil, nor that sex is only appropriate for procreation. We believe that sex should be expressed abundantly, but responsibly, not only for ourselves, but for our partners and their significant others. The long-term medical statistics indicate that teenage pregnancies have gone down. They also found that AIDS deaths deceased significantly last year in the United States. People are learning. Families used to believe that they had to have lots of children. Most people cannot responsibly raise a lot of children. A few may be able to pay for them, but, emotionally, almost no parent can do emotional justice to a lot of children. The sexual revolution, of my youth, seemed to imply that everyone had to have sex as teenagers, and that, perhaps, there were no long-term, overwhelming negative consequences to our sexual choices. Now, a good many teenagers, are deciding to abstain from sex, or at least from intercourse that may produce children, until they are no longer children themselves. Others are using condoms and other responsible birth control technologies. Youth and adults, gays and straights, are learning that irresponsible sex can kill you, and that irresponsible sex is harmful to you, your partners, and the larger society. UUSC celebrate sexual abundance, but we expect our members to be, consistently sexually responsible.

Our consumer existence is a never-ending party, a bulimic excess, where people try to swallow more than they can digest, because they are caught in illusions of scarcity, and end up sick and wasting what they have and are. We are surrounded by seductive choices, most of which are unnecessary, many of which are unhealthy or even anti- social. I have found that I cope better if I limit by choices. I choose not to watch much TV, because I do not control my intake of visual stimulation easily. I do not allow myself much time with the newspaper. I am finding this much easier in Jacksonville.. I limit my listening to public radio news, and even there I find myself often turning off the commentary programs. I don't waste time shopping for things I don't really need. Each possession we acquire in some ways possesses us. We owe money for it. We feel the need to use it because we have it. We invest time in it. So, before you buy something, consider whether it will actually give your life more abundance, or whether instead, it will help to drag you down, to diminish, and impoverish you.

It is very easy to spend money today, too easy, and so most people go into debt which diminishes their lives. In most cases, they could and should wisely choose to avoid much of that debt. Living with abundance does not mean drowning in credit card debt. So many people are caught up in the quicksand of their impulsive excesses. Our consumer world makes that life style so easy, so politically correct, so tempting. Jesus was right: "lead us not into temptation," for that is a primary way to deliver yourself, or to be delivered by others, from evil.

If you do not have time for yourself, for your own inner life, uninterrupted by the static of media, consumer, spectator manias, you do not have abundance. If you do not have time for love, for friendship, for community with your chosen intimates, you do not have abundance. If you are so busy at work that you do not have time for your life's vocations, you do not have abundance.

Americans living today have, are, or will inherit vastly more financial wealth than any culture in the history of the world. We will live longer, be healthier, have more choices, and more access to both natural and cultural abundance than any culture in the history of the world. We need to give up our illusions of scarcity. We can solve the genuine pockets of scarcity that survive: the unfair distribution of some economic, social, and political resources, and we can resolve the unbalanced choices of our own lives. We can choose to live with abundance, and we can choose wisely among the wealth of choices given to us each day, and in the years of our lives.

Our theology of abundance, focusing in Unitarian fashion upon what is genuinely most important and most loving for the most people, and embracing in Universalist fashion the dignity of each person and the truths found in all faiths provide us with a firm foundation. This congregation provides us with a flourishing community in which we may be both challenged to overcome the illusions of scarcity, invited to help solve the unfairness surviving in our world and the imbalances apparent in our own lives, nurtured to find times to grow our own souls, and supported in stretching beyond ourselves to a world vision and a cosmic faith. We do not need to possess the world, for when we try, we lose our own souls, and diminish the incredible abundance of Creation. With William Blake, we will "see the world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palms of our hands, and eternity in an hour."

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