Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I think I heard more voices than ever this year suggesting that weÂ consider toning down the cultural excesses of Christmas gift-giving.Â We’ve certainly not eliminated gift-giving in my world of family and friends, but it has become more modest in recent years.Â Â Counterintuitively, Christmas has not become less important to us; if anything, the opposite is true, becauseÂ it offers us time as family to be together.
JournalistÂ Bill McKibben opened his 2007 book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, with the story of two birds – -Â More and Better – -Â who for most of human history roosted on the same branch.Â That way, he wrote, you could toss one stone andÂ often hit both – - at least, often enough that in the centuries since Adam Smith weÂ pressed doggedly for maximum economic production.Â Â Individuals pursued their own interests in a market economy usuallyÂ made each otherÂ richer.Â IncreasedÂ efficiency, which usually meant increased scale, createdÂ More.Â Most of us whoÂ read this blogÂ live lives of relative ease and prosperity compared to much of the world;Â More has been our friend.
What has changed in our time, Â writes McKibben, is that Better has flown a few trees away to make her nest, and that changed everything because if you have the stone of your own life in your hand, you have to make a choice.Â Which will it be: More or Better?Â EvidenceÂ piles up that growth isn’t any longer making usÂ wealthier, but is generating inequality and insecurity, andÂ colliding with serious physical limits to what our planet can realistically sustain.Â But there is also another wild card calling out for our attention:Â evidence from various directions suggests that “even when growth does make us wealthier, the greater wealth no longer makes us happier.”
The directionÂ McKibben pointsÂ for solutions is not toward abandoning either Adam Smith or markets (they clearly work) but toward rebuilding local economies.Â That, he contends, will mean setting conscious limits on markets by downplaying efficiency and paying attention to other goals.Â TheÂ biggest changes to our daily habits in generations,Â as well asÂ ”our worldview, our sense of what constitutes progress,” will be required, a shift that isÂ neither liberal nor conservative, mostly just different.Â The key question will no longer be whether the economy produces “an ever larger pile of stuff,” says McKibben,Â but whether it buiilds or undermines community, because commuity “is the key to physical survival in our environmental predicament and also to human satisfaction.”
Who knew?!?Â Â Contrary to that infamous counsel to lessen our post-9/11 grief by going shopping, having more doesn’t make us feel better.Â McKibbenÂ is a United Methodist and taught Sunday School for years in his small upstate New York congregation; heÂ wrote The End of Nature as a staff writer for The New Yorker and is currently scholar in residence at Middlebury College.Â It’s possible to hear echoes of the biblical prophets when he suggestsÂ that it’s time for people of faith to throw some grit into the works by making the economy less effiicient.Â Â ”At the risk of betraying my background as a Sunday School teacher,” he writes, “the most inefficient idea our society ever embraced was originally a Jewish inspiration: the Sabbath, a day set aside for relationships with family and with God and with the world around us.”Â For most of our national history, everything stopped on the Sabbath: it was impossible to go shopping!Â
We’re not likely to turn the clock back, nor is that exactly what McKibben suggests, but it’s interesting to contemplate.Â It’s hard to imagine a world very different from the one we know, but that seems to me to be precisely what Jesus invited us to do.Â The question for our time mayÂ beÂ whether we can modify human behavior enough to limit the damage to our planet andÂ find ways to copy with what we can’t prevent – - maybe even, in McKibben’s words, “mobilize the wealth of our communities to make the transition tolerable, even sweet, instead of tragic.”Â
Date posted: Tuesday, January 1st, 2008 5:51 pm | Under category: bible, Christian Education, congregational life, discipleship, liturgical seasons, Sunday school, Uncategorized, world view
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