A Simple Feast, Columns

Advent, abundance, and generosity

As our celebrations of harvest festivals conclude, we move into the season of Advent, when the hours of darkness are extended. The dark depth of the soil welcomes water and nutrients from fading grasses and fallen leaves, plants of all kinds, beds of pine needles, animal nests and waste. Organic matter enriches the soil for a new season of planting.

Before planting, we face a long season of waiting. Some seeds fall into the soil for a time of rest and regeneration; other seeds are saved and stored for the next season. Many bulbs and plants are uprooted before the soil freezes so they can regenerate in a safe dark place. We move into a season of nature that requires care, trust, patience, and faith that new life will rise up when the axis of the earth tilts again to welcome longer and warmer days.

Eva Jensen

The scarcity narrative, centered in insecurity and fear, stimulates anxiety, greed, and accumulation.

Similarly, it seems we are facing a season of change in society — some systems and structures that we have built to support our life together are not working because they do not support the “common good,” our food system included. A privileged minority of the global population that holds wealth, food, land, and power benefit disproportionately. We are spinning on a wobbly axis.

The environment suffers multiple shocks of polluting abuse. Nearly 14 percent of the earth’s population is hungry or malnourished, and 16 percent of the U.S. population is food insecure. And yet, more than enough food (calorie count) is produced on the planet to feed everyone.

In September, Old Testament scholar and author Walter Brueggemann spoke at Augsburg College. He presented a biblical and theological perspective on our food system, which he titled “The Food Fight: Dispute in Biblical Testimony.” The conflict between two narratives about food — a scarcity narrative and a narrative of grateful abundance — centers on three key questions: Who gets food? How much do they get? Who decides?

The biblical metaphor for the scarcity narrative is found in the story of Pharaoh. Full of anxiety about scarcity and a future famine, Pharaoh accumulated food in storehouses, monopolized the food supply, and established power over the people through his control of the food supply. He provided food for people during the famine in exchange for their cattle and land, which led to their enslavement and violence. The scarcity narrative, centered in insecurity and fear, stimulates anxiety, greed, and accumulation. Our contemporary culture, including its food system (through which corporate agribusiness manufactures and markets more than 95 percent of the food in the United States), mirrors Pharaoh’s time.

The biblical narrative of grateful abundance offers an alternative in the food fight that Brueggemann presents. Grounded in God’s gift of abundance, it makes generous community possible with the following three elements:

1.) Creation faith that points to creation as good and blessed by God with a life force that is generative when well cared for by human beings.

2.) Doxology that invites praise, gratitude, and generosity in response to the Creator and the abundance of creation.

3.) Sabbath that breaks the grip of feverish work and accumulation. Working 24/7 is a requirement of the scarcity system. Exhausted people do not change systems.

How can we bring the narrative of grateful abundance to our modern culture and the challenges we face? What practices can we cultivate to grow creation faith, community trust, and civility? What policies can we advocate for to ensure equity and justice in contrast to privilege and unbridled power?

During Advent we will hear Mary’s joyful song, which is centered in creation faith and gratitude for the abundance of God’s care and turning of the world to more sustainable ways of living. We are invited to join in the song.

Advent 2011 provides an opportunity to practice this song. It is a time to be attentive to the actions of the Joint Super Committee of the House and Senate, as well as those bodies’ votes on the Super Committee plan. How do these proposals reflect either the scarcity narrative or the abundant generosity narrative of the biblical texts?

If we are engaged, our wobbly axis can again be tuned to the axis of creation and the abundance of God’s generous grace inviting us to share in that abundance and creativity.

Eva Jensen is an ELCA pastor who lives and works in the Twin Cities.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,