Sunday, June 24, 2007

Growing out of Scarcity

Holly and I watched The Squid and the Whale the other night. Wow. I don't think I can call it a "great movie" because that makes it sound entertaining. It was "disturbing" in its authenticity and accurate portrayal of life. At least of a life I knew as a child.

This post isn't about that movie. The movie just stirred and crystallized a few thoughts for me and has had me thinking ever since.

I grew up knowing scarcity. My parents divorced early on...I believe I was in 1st grade. My mother worked a full-time job and the three of us kids were the token latch-keys of the 80s. My parents did the best they knew how, but it felt a bit like we were often in the margins.

I lived with my mother, older brother and younger sister. We ate simple meals, never stocked sodas in the fridge (except the Diet Dr. Pepper's my stepdad was fond of). I didn't get much of an allowance. It's not that my parents were stingy or anything like that...I just don't think the money was there. Still, we'd take family vacations...usually a weekend camping trip and the yearly trip down to the coast.

We saw my father every other weekend. His job took him away during the week, so we'd see him just a few days each month. He'd have us into his small one-bedroom apartment and we'd eat Wolf Brand Chili and SPAM. (Yes, in the 80s in Texas people actually ate that stuff.)

My father re-married shortly after my parent's divorce. My stepmother had two sons from a previous marriage. Time spent with that side of the family had it's own kind of scarcity...not as much economic (although there was that) as it was relational. Raising 5 kids in a mixed family was no simple thing. There was simply never enough attention to go around.

I got myself into all sorts of trouble as a child. Some said I was acting out to get my mother's attention (again there was an apparent deficit of that being that she was now re-imagining her own life sans-husband...and we just didn't seem to get along for a good part of my childhood). I stole from the neighborhood stores, always wanted stuff I couldn't afford, asking to borrow things from sordid friends and family members.

My stepmother remembers me referencing the price of any product that was ever brought up in conversation. "I got a new scooter," my cousin would say. I'd reply, "Oh cool. Those are like 50 bucks, right, at the mall?" I was always aware of money...that I never seemed to have.

I know that scarcity was a part of the recession of the 80s...and it was also a part of the Middle-Class American Way of Life. I wasn't necessarily alone nor am I writing now to bitch and moan about how bad my childhood was. I have just become aware of these thoughts/feelings recently. The movie, like I said, brought out some feelings I haven't dealt with in a long time.

As I am taking stock of my own life and the rhythms my family observes, I am fully aware of how I run around crazed by my world's scarcity. Never enough time, never enough energy, gotta do or die or the moment will pass and never come back, have I missed my chance?

And you know what people who live a scarcity-centered life do? They starve themselves and then they splurge. So, instead of having a healthy relationship with food or travel or spending or whatnot, I tend towards the hyperbolic from time to time. My scarcity tells me that there's never enough, so just go big from time to time.

I wonder if the story that our ancestors spun about God says something to this...that our world is not bound to scarcity, but is made for abundance...not abundance in some sort of "God wants you to be rich" sense...but that there is enough. That he provides for the birds of the air and the flowers in the fields...and how much more does he care for us?

I wonder. I feel like I am at the bottom of a pit of credit card debt, college debt, personal depression, bad life-patterns, and low self-esteem. I feel like I look around and all I see is scarcity. We're all just trying to "get by". Isn't there more than just that? Or is that the question of a privileged, educated Middle-Class American? Even as tears come to my eyes as I type this, I realize my own lack of sufficiency to live well. Is anyone sufficient?

Still, the old language of "just grace" and "let go; let God" doesn't cut it. It doesn't. If it works for you, great. It just doesn't for me. It gets people off the hook too easily.

But I don't know what to do
Is the Kingdom even breaking through?
God I hope it still is true

And so I play the hypocrite
'cause I can see that new world
But cannot live in it
And I would take you there
Yes, I would take you there

How can we help each other to move beyond seeing life as scarce? Or is this a demon of my own making? Is this something I must face-down myself?


not your mom said... your not the only one feeling that way. You have put in words my feelings lately, I am asking the same questions??? I press on...those thoughts in mind...I still press on...hope of??? I don't know Ryan, I don't have words for you, or for myself...

Kirsty said...

Hey Ryan

Thank you for your honest observations.

I have also heard the 'just grace', 'let go;let God' type of thinking a lot during my life and for me it wasn't cutting it either. But at the same time while I have fought so long against these cliches and easy answers I started to realize that I had almost thrown away any remnant of them. I didn't find them to be true so I disregarded it all, but while doing that I threw out so much of who God is. I think God has grace for us, and we do have to let God work in us, but I am finding it to be reality now rather than words. I have to be open for that change though, and while I still question God I have a sense that it is a partnership of him and me working through these things.

A lot of things we believe about ourselves seem to come from our background, so it only makes sense that God would want us to correct those things that we have attached to ourselves. I don't think it's something easy of course and to me seems like a process of God moving in us, and us moving together personally and as communities. Some of the most times of change for me have been times where I have had to admit to people in my life that I really messed up or that my thinking was wrong and then in that I have felt released to move away from the wrong patterns.

I just feel like there is a whole depth to God that we miss, whether we are fundamentals or more progressive. I know the whole 'personal salvation thing' has been long drawn out, but there is definately a personal side to following the kingdom, where we must all look ourselves in the mirror and see where we are off track or where we have been hurt and how that has shaped us into what we are today.

Well that was very long winded!

Hope you guys are well:)


Nathaniel said...

hey ryan, a few thoughts thrown together that probably will not make sense. i think a lot has to do with having a good prospective of God and his provision. He loves his children and gives them what they need (paul telling us to be content in every situation/ who will give their children a stone when they ask for bread...etc.) we need to realize that God gives abundantly to his children, what they need to sanctify them and make them more like Jesus. Sometimes that involves the blessings of curses, sometimes it involves the curses of blessings. i know that part of the driving force of moving out of orange county, ca for us was partly to get away from that materialism there. we have found families back here who have little (compared to americas standards) but see what they do have as God's provision and are exceedingly joyful. this is hard for us as humans because of our tendency to always covet "stuff"(which doesn't fulfill us anymore or make us happier). i think the key is to see wealth as God sees it. to be content where we are, to be thankful with what we have, and to use wisely what we have for advancing HIS kingdom.

ashdown said...

hey man - you dont face this alone. i am with ya - and now will be even closer! ha. seriously though - amanda and i were just talking about this scarcity/need/provision...
such a tough thing - but i am glad to be with you on the journey - i will call ya today.

Birgitta said...

thanks for your honesty. thanks for putting to words of what I have felt many years. I can relate to many of the things you said. I didn't grow up in poverty but "you'd better eat it now because who knows when it will show up again".

I'm sending this message with a hug. I sometimes wonder if I will ever change my way of looking at things.

Lora said...

love u

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Thanks everyone for the comments.

hilary said...

this is a good one ryan....."never enough", the mantra of our culture.....i used to tell yoga students.....and i think about it alot.....we live in the "addiction" of "never enough"....cuz it's kinda fun to strive for women, we NEVER live up....and as tim gunn says...."there will always, something to fret about...".....i think there is something "comforting" about not making it, and that is part of the weird cycle.....we really know that we have so fucking much that we every once in awhile "throw caution to the wind" and just buy or purge or eat or....and then return to the funny comfort of "never enough".....i think because it's kind of a motivating state to be then, we have to ponder, "what if joy was the motivation?"...............and then i love the buddhist saying, "there is nothing clever about not being happy"...........

mamak said...

It no longer works for me either Ryan. It worked, kind of, for most of my life. I'm still in a fog sometimes but it's getting clearer.
Harder,but clearer. Read Spong's A NEw Christianity For A New World.

in peace,

nir said...

A lot of the Bible doesn't make much sense until we struggle through questions just like yours. It's clear to me God is working on you. Be encouraged, it took me a lot longer to get to where you are right now.

Sigrun said...

I still remember you playing the guitar in BLC (KL, Malaysia) and occasionally visit your blog. I like your honest thoughts.

What is interesting to me is the process we seem to go through as we start this season of life, called parenting. I believe it is a powerful phase where we are forced to look into a mirror and most often we are shocked at what we see. I think this is a time in life where we can identify our deepest pains and shortcomings.

I think it is the prelude to healing.

We desperately need the healing to be effective witnesses and do God's work. I believe we will move forford and get over 'ourselves'.

Shalom, brother!