You might think Living with Less lines up well with Stewardship – if you reduce your consumption, you can give more money to the Church. But that flows from a hopelessly narrow concept of stewardship, one that completely misses the mark.
Stewardship is an expansive concept, and its larger meaning is living our faith to the full. It’s a whole lifestyle – a broad commitment to changing the way we live in the world according to the vision of Christ. That lifestyle is one of being faithful stewards, commissioned by God to nurture the garden bequeathed to us and to honour all its inhabitants with our loving care. It takes all our gifts – our time, talents, and treasures – packaged in a lifestyle of generous living, to fully reflect God’s grace. Give more and take less, because a simple life frees you to serve. That’s an all-consuming mandate, not just a week in the Fall when we fill out a donation card.
We need to rescue a crippled stewardship that’s been narrowed down, in the minds of many, to that dreaded financial pitch one Sunday. But it’s not only, or even primarily, about our treasure. It’s about all the things we are grateful to give – the time we devote to caring for our neighbours, the skills and abilities we contribute to God’s children, the passion we put into our work. In that spirit, we turn stewardship into an opportunity to make our faith so meaningful and rewarding that we’re eager to serve. When we make people excited to be part of that mission, they will step forward. Then the money aspect can be viewed in its true context.
Stepping Back from Scarcity Culture
If our grandparents had known we’d be producing 30 times more commodities than they could produce, they’d say we’re living in a time of extravagant abundance. If they also knew we all think we’re living in a time of nagging scarcity, they’d think we’ve lost our minds. Perhaps we have.
What lies behind this scarcity mindset that seems so absurd yet colours everything we do in our economy?
Some would say it’s the product of our consumer culture, fed by a marketing industry that has mastered all the psychological techniques to suck us into obsessive behaviours that render us perpetually dissatisfied. A scarcity mindset is deliberately and carefully cultivated so that, no matter how much we have, it’s not enough.
But I think it runs deeper. It’s rooted in the most basic moral choices we have made within our society. What are we doing with our lives? Why do we work? What is the purpose of consumption in our lives? As abstract as these questions are, they actually determine how we conduct our lives.
Here’s the anti-economics of it. Do we work to meet our needs or to indulge our wants? You may think there’s a fine line between them, and it’s an impossible question to define. But that belies a clear relationship that more is simple and distinct than anyone can understand.
Take two facts. One: our economy produces more stuff today than it did a generation ago. Two: there’s a marketing industry out there that pushes us relentlessly to want more stuff every day, because we can never have enough. As a result, we live in a culture of scarcity where shortages are the norm and losers go without.
That’s wants. Now let’s add another fact regarding needs. Though our economy produces more stuff today than it did a generation ago, our needs haven’t changed much. For example, how much more food do you need than your grandmother did? From a needs perspective, we live in a culture of abundance where surplus is the norm and nobody need go without unless goods are deliberately denied them.
So which is it: scarcity or abundance, shortage or surplus? Here’s what I would suggest. Abundance is the natural order of things, unless we’re subject to psychological marketing scams that trick us into believing that too much is not enough – and unless they make us so addicted to frivolous wants that we don’t even know what our needs are, and how modest they really are, or how much surplus stuff we’re drowning in.
On a Mission
What do we make of our needs? We follow our calling instead of our insatiable appetites. What is God calling you to do? What do you need in your life in order to follow that mission? Surely you don’t really need all that unnecessary stuff that clutters your living space. Of course we need to consume up to a point in order to live without distress. But, beyond that, we should heed the call to serve. That’s where stewardship comes from. And there’s another side to it: casting off what you don’t need for the use of others who are in need. Now carry it a step further – it’s not limited to giving mere money. Give the three T’s: your Time, Talents, and Treasures.
Note that Treasure is last on the list, but only because it should not be considered until after you have considered what of yourself you’re ready to give, before you know which of your holdings you might part with.
That’s real Stewardship. That’s Generous Living writ large. And that’s living with less because you’re on a mission.
Dr. Gary Russell is with St. Margaret’s Anglican and Epiphany Indigenous parishes in Winnipeg. He taught Economics for many years in Canadian and Chinese universities, though he now calls himself an anti-economist. He was recently installed as a Lay Canon in the Diocese. He has currently been assigned to coordinate its Generous Living and Stewardship programme.