Lent 3: A Trickle (or not)
There are all kinds of wildernesses. But the variety of wilderness most often envisioned in our area is a hike in part of the untamed woods of our mountains. Some of them are even designated wilderness areas. Those tend not to have ready access to vehicular traffic. To hike in those areas one really does need some coping skills.
A wooded wilderness still has many obstacles. The canopy might shield us from a clear vision of the heavens. On our first week we saw that SLOTH and ENVY could cloud our vision of God. Or undergrowth might entangle our feet and bring us down, trapping us so we might not easily resume our walk. On Lent 2 we saw how easily it is to be ensnared by LUST. Bruised and a little disoriented we find the stream bed only to discover the source of life-giving water has been trapped upstream and we remain parched. GREED, another one of the classic deadly sins, has choked the stream for its own aggrandizement.
Oh yes, greed is definitely a nasty individual sin, especially for those of us who are sure we rarely commit it. If we have felt we have been victims of it though, our evaluation is that the greedy person certainly deserves what they get in any Great Reckoning!
In considering this topic I found an interesting study in Scientific American. The article was dated in 2014 and authored by a Michael Norton. The attention grabbing title was “Why Greed Begets More Greed”. In it he told of an experiment. People were given an envelope with $6.00 in it and the instructions to give envelopes to the recipients of their choice with some distribution of that $6.00. There were some who followed the “pass it on” type of formula and their recipient received an envelope with either the full $6.00 or at least $5.00. Generosity turned to generosity. Some split the difference and the recipient received $3.00. Fairness was the guiding principle for those givers. But where people received an empty envelope to an almost empty envelope, greed was evident. And when given the opportunity to start the chain reaction over, those who received greed often perpetuated greed and greed was the most common response.
I can’t vouch for the veracity of the exercise of scientific conclusions, but as an observer, I am not surprised.
Now even then, Greed doesn’t seem like such a big deal. We have idealized those who have been the big success stories – those who have gone from rags to riches. We would more likely consider most of them cunning not greedy. And if we exhibit the behavior on a micro-scale, we would probably think of ourselves as preparing for our futures, taking care of ourselves, building up a nest egg, industrious or any other combination of descriptions used regularly.
We might even advocate for government policies that suggest the wealthy will, by their very nature, take care of those who are poor and needy.
Sadly we have been discovering for some thirty years that economic policies that are built on that trickle down philosophy have made a very few very rich and left a great many people eating the crumbs of the economic pie.
Our wilderness walk as we kneel beside the dry stream might make us aware of the evil of greed that is damming the source of water. If we were to acknowledge greed as a constrictive force, we might decide that if we ever get out of this wilderness we might contribute a bit more to some worthy charity, or ask some insightful questions to our legislators. Surely such a reaction will show good faith and a bit of growth in our understanding.
The evil of greed is much more insidious that that. We can’t undo the effects of this choking demon with a $5.00 gift to a charity.
Unless we realize how prevalent greed is in our corporate lives, and how much damage this attitude is for the good of all humankind, we will have chosen greed over God every time.
How would you feel if you received the empty envelope or the envelope with 6 cents in it in that experiment I mentioned? My guess is that your response would include disappointment, annoyance to anger, resentment, to name a few. That is what they found in the experiment. They also found that those that receive the even distribution felt they had achieved what was fair. But the attitudes that went with that were all positive. Gratitude was the present there as well it was present for those who received the larger amounts.
We live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world and people go to bed every night trying to figure out how to pay the bills. People go without meals because they cannot afford them. Good people live in substandard situations because there is no money for daily life let alone an emergency situation. Not even paying attention to the needs of people globally as we enjoy the benefits of great wealth in this nation, what does that say about us and about our values?
Greed literally chokes the life-blood from people in our nation. All the while talk and policies suggest further restrictions to food stamps and WIC programs. With no fanfare, and no public outcry the American with Disabilities Act was gutted in the House of Representatives because businesses that failed to comply might be sued. So non-compliance is being proposed as OK in the law. The suing can take place afterward, if anyone wants to follow up. Astronomical sums are being spent to keep wealthy politicians in office and corporate profits green and growing. We idealize the Stock Market and phenomenal numbers when most Americans live from pay check to pay check and stocks are only where some pension money is invested and that money is at risk every day should there be a “correction”. We paste labels on anyone who even suggests fair distribution of wealth. We have made Capitalism a God and we tend to worship at that Golden Calf much more than at the foot of the cross.
This Lenten journey into the wilderness reminds us that we need to find ways to free the waters so that justice might flow as a never ending stream. This Lent we confront the twin images of God and mammon and are asked “whom will we serve”. This Lent we realize that we have the power to free the waters. May it be so.
Grace and Peace,