Friday, September 23, 2011

The Scarcity Paradigm

I am a white, middle-class man working on a master's degree. I'm supposed to eat lunch at an Asian-Fusion restaurant or Whole Foods or a sushi bar (tongue in cheek). I shouldn't be eating the free meals that urban churches are cooking up for people in need, right?

Or... should I? I'm beginning to think that I - we - actually should be.

Last Thursday I attended Breaking Bread at Broad Street Ministry in center city Philadelphia. Breaking Bread is a weekly program that offers a free community meal from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every Thursday. My good friend works at BSM and invited me to come down and share the meal with the many Philadelphians who currently have no home or live in shelters. At first I assumed he was asking me to volunteer. But he quickly corrected me and explained that Breaking Bread is a community meal; and that means that it is table fellowship for all. I accepted the invitation, but was still a bit nervous about the whole thing.

Thursday morning came and I stood on Broad Street in the Theater District of Philly. Across the street were giant billboards and flashy signs. Towering above me were BSM's massive stained glass windows. Below on the street was a mixed crowd of people waiting for doors to open. I stood on the fringe feeling overly self-conscious. Were these people staring at me? Judging me by my appearance? Would anyone ask me if I was a new volunteer? Did they know I didn't truly belong there?

These feelings remained throughout lunch. As I sat at a table of 8 people and enjoyed a three course meal I couldn't help but think that I was a fraud of sorts. I didn't need this meal, did I? Was I taking food away from those who might need it? Would others be angry if they found out I wasn't "in need" as they were?

These thoughts are the product of the scarcity paradigm - the view that the world is limited in resources and insufficient to meet the needs of all people. This way of thinking has been ingrained in me (and most in the West) and it subtly affects how I see everything - even acts of compassion and service.

To view the world through the scarcity paradigm only serves to divide people groups into social classes based on materialism. This is precisely the kind of thing that BSM's Breaking Bread is working against. Instead, Breaking Bread is a meal for all that provides a time and space to transcend boundaries of social class and materialism and meet on the level of common humanity. It seems strangely beautiful. And scandalously Christlike.

More importantly, it turns the scarcity paradigm upside down and preaches the Good News that there is, in fact, enough to go around. There is enough for me to eat a meal with my neighbors.

After lunch I went out for a cup of coffee with a woman I met at lunch. She has been without a home for at least 7 weeks. She and I sat at Saxbys Coffee inside the shops at Liberty Place on Chestnut/16th Street. As she shared with me her incredible story, I was overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of people pouring in and out of the shopping center. Behind me there were shops of all kinds: clothing, kitchen supplies, a food court, etc.

I was utterly confused as I observed seemingly infinite supplies of food and clothing around me. My mind could not comprehend the dissonance between what I had just seen at Broad Street Ministry and the reality of abundance in Liberty Place mall. At BSM women and men play a lottery to win a trip to the clothing closet to obtain used clothing. At Liberty Place women and men fork over $60 for a shirt or a pair of shoes.

There isn't enough to go around? I simply can't believe that anymore.

There IS enough to go around. We live in a world of abundance and the Creator of this world is the God of abundance.

Can we believe in a world where there is enough? Can we trust the promise that the God of the Bible provides for us? Can we begin living in a way that manifests the abundance paradigm?

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