Thanks to my book group, I have a few new podcasts that I’ve started listening to and one of the ones I’m really liking is “Hidden Brain,” with Shankar Vedantam. I always enjoy his NPR segments on social behaviors and how we are wired; this is more of the same and equally interesting.
Today is Easter Sunday, and while I was getting ready to go to church this morning, I happened to listen to this episode, on how when we experience some form of scarcity, it really messes with our head, and drives us to contradictory behaviors. [Listen to it here: Scarcity and Tunnel Vision]. So, for example, people who are experiencing poverty are hardly able to think of anything except the immediate crisis in front of them; the podcast tells the story of one woman who was struggling to feed her family, and as soon as she got a credit card, she maxed it out in just a few days, buying supplies for her house. She had “tunnel vision” and simply was not able to think about other, secondary needs–and she certainly wasn’t able to sit down and make a budget. In the same way, experiments were done with conscientious objectors in WWII; they were put on a starvation diet, and very quickly all they could think about was food, and all efforts to distract them failed. They, too, had “tunnel vision.”
The same thing happens with time–when we feel we don’t have enough time; and also with people who are lonely, who don’t feel like they have enough friends. In each case, the consequent behavior isn’t the healthiest or most constructive; it is more like a knee-jerk reaction to the situation and a desperate attempt to combat it in the short-term [without thinking about longer-term ramifications.] Apparently, our brains also have a limited amount of “bandwidth,” and when a pressing concern is consuming us, all our other thinking is slowed down–like email when you are downloading a movie.
What struck me most about the story (particularly on Easter morning), is how all of us can, so easily, shift into a “scarcity” mindset–operating out of a sense that there is a limited amount of the things that are most precious to us, and we have to hoard them, guard them, and protect them. [To be clear, this is different from the experience of people in poverty and hunger–those situations are not about a “mindset,” but rather about social situations where help and more constructive societal solutions need to be offered.]
I’m talking about when we allow our own fears about not having enough and not being enough to consume us, such that everyone else becomes a competitor, not a friend, and every new situation presents a threat, rather than an opportunity. The church can act this way, of course: we are losing members, the country is becoming less Christian, we’re becoming less relevant, etc., etc. A scarcity mentality causes us to turn inward instead of outward, look back instead of forward, and act with fear instead of love.
The irony, of course, is that the resurrection permanently refutes the idea that we can save ourselves through parsimony, selfishness, and hoarding. That road leads only to a tomb. Instead, the resurrection demonstrates vividly and persuasively that “life and life abundant” already has been given to us; and we are freed to be recklessly prodigal and extravagantly lavish–especially with the things that are most precious to us.
In the new life given to us in Christ, we don’t have to have “tunnel vision,” using all our bandwidth to protect ourselves. Instead, we are invited to use our gifts, capacities and wisdom for the sake of others, freely sharing what we have and opening our hearts and hands to those in need. In so doing, we embody this abundant life, this “enough,” sharing it with a world that is driven by fear and scarcity and showing a vision of another way–a way of generosity and gratitude, a way of plenitude and hospitality.
We have enough. There is enough. We are enough. Not because we have we have made it so, but because he is risen. And that makes all the difference.