“We build on foundations we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
We profit from persons we did not know.
We are ever bound in community."

Rev. Peter Raible (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mapping a Life: Greed or Gratitude?

A few thoughts on greed...
Greed is almost impossible to see in ourselves, right?  No looks in the mirror, and says, “You Greedy Jerk..I see you there!”

It’s easy to look at Bernie Madoff, or the top Executives at Enron, or the Bankers and CEOs on Wallstreet, or any number of other people and businesses, and shake a finger and tsk-tsk disapprovingly, and say, “Those greedy people…in this greedy system.”

Greed is nearly impossible to see in ourselves, isn’t it? I mean, who among us would say, “Yup, I’m greedy! And it’s causing me problems!” Probably not to many of us.

And yet, I’m surprised by how often I find myself saying, almost unconsciously, “I deserve this; the world owes me; other people owe me; what I have is not quite enough, quite yet, I deserve just a little bit more…More attention, more money, more things...more.”  

Greed is an insidious, dangerous condition of the heart – and it’s about more than money.

Here’s what I mean: perhaps in our work lives, or relationships, or marriages, we just “feed” ourselves, slowly starving our partners or colleagues or children of the things they need. We hold tight, being stingy with praise, kindness, attention, love, even money. 

Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t hold tight, that’s not me,” and that may be true, but remember that greed is almost impossible to see in ourselves.

And yet, from the bird’s eye view (God’s view, if you will), it is clear that collectively, greed is rampant.

As the poet, George Ella Lyon, says in her poem:

God is fed up
All the oceans she gave us
All the fields
All the acres of steep seedful forests
And we did what?
         Invented the Great Chain
            of Being and
            the chain saw
         Invented sin
God says,
I've had it…
I set you down
a miracle among miracles
You want more
It's your turn
You show me.

Show what? Show how?

We might start by showing some humility. We might remember that we didn’t make the world, this day, our lives, the soil, the trees, or the oceans. We didn’t make the birds, or the moon and stars.

When I worked at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, we began each service with these modified words from the 118th Psalm:

This is indeed a day which God has made.
Let us, then, rejoice and be glad in it.
And let us count our many blessings.
Let us be grateful for the capacity to see, feel, hear, and understand.
Let us be grateful for the incredible gift of life.
And, let us be especially grateful for the ties of love which bind us together, giving dignity, meaning, worth, and joy to all our days.

For a long time, that line, “This is indeed a day which God has made!” made me cranky and bothered me.  Sure, I loved the stuff about counting blessings and gratefulness, but I didn’t even really believe in God, or that “God” created the day.

But week after week we said those words together. Slowly, something in me changed. I began to understand that “God” was something that kept my ego in check and grounded me. I realized that no matter what I thought about “God,” the truth was that I definitely did not make the day. I did not make the earth. I did not make the coffee bean, or the oats, or the egg that nourished me.

Something greater than me, had done these things, and had allowed life and the new day to emerge. The day was a gift. My body, my breath - a gift. All that I had, a loan from Life itself.

And the truth, is that the God and the world don't owe us anything: not the high speed internet that works 24/7, or corner offices, or drivers who always signal properly, or a partner that can read our mind, or meet our every need, or anything else.

“I set you down
a miracle among miracles
You want more
It's your turn
You show me.”

Show what?

We owe the world and its abundant miracles - fiery sunsets, northern lights, laughing children, honey crisp apples, the fact that we’re here at all - our gratitude, our praise.

Instead of always reaching for something more, for feeling we never have enough, the Spirit Map invites us to try saying, "Thank you," and living with a bit more humility at the center of our lives. 

P.S. For more good thoughts on this topic, check out Heidi Mastrud's blog, "Not Hell, But Hope."

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