A couple of things I’ve read recently have mentioned the Exodus story in relation to climate change. Move over Genesis – you’re just too clichéd, with your garden and your God saying creation is good and, by the way, let’s not mention filling the earth and having mastery over it. We need liberation songs. We need stories of freedom for captives. We need Exodus to take us through the desert to a land flowing with beer and chocolate (or whatever passes for milk and honey in your imagination).
Michael Meacher MP, writing in Resurgence Magazine (March/April 2014), refers to the part of the Exodus story where Pharaoh’s heart is repeatedly hardened (by God, somewhat embarrassingly – ahem, move on). Meacher describes how Pharaoh “will not give up the way of life to which he is addicted”, i.e. a life that relies on a nation of slaves. Today, the rich world’s addiction to stuff requires us to harden our hearts to the poor who are suffering most because of our way of life. We know about slavery, plantations, loss of habitats, deforestation, tar sands, intensive industrial farming, flooding, species loss, refugees, and so on. Yet we have to harden our hearts to it all because otherwise we would have to change beyond imagination. We dare not set God’s people free.
In the same article, Meacher refers to the story of the Golden Calf, cast by Moses’ brother, Aaron, while Moses is up the mountain receiving the law from God. Much of that law addressed how the Israelites could live together in such a way that all could thrive – a combination of instructions about worship and justice that Jesus (amongst others) later summed up as “Love God” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Instead, the people worshipped a golden calf. Meacher says, “The threat to religion doesn’t come from the likes of Richard Dawkins, but from out-of-town hypermarkets … The poverty of affluence has left a profound spiritual void in the West, and this remains an emptiness we all need to be awakened from.”
I have just started reading Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill’s book, ‘Enough is Enough’ (and, yes, I do have that song running in my head). Outlining their case for a Steady State Economy, as opposed to one based on endless growth, the book is subtitled, “Building a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources.” Sounds good. In his foreword, Herman Daly refers to the provision of manna to the Israelites in the desert. In the Exodus story, each morning (except for the Sabbath), the Israelites found a wafer-like substance lying on the ground, and this provided their basic food for forty years of desert wandering. They called the substance, Manna. Exodus 16.18 says that when they measured it out, “Those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage.” Each had gathered enough for that day. If anyone tried to keep some over, it spoiled overnight. The exception was the day before the Sabbath, when they gathered enough for two days and it didn’t spoil. God provided enough. It wasn’t a luxury diet, but it was enough. No one could sell an excess and get rich, and no one starved. There was enough for everyone.
We need to learn how to be content with enough, and build that ‘enough’ into our economics and our culture. In order to do that, we need to be set free from our addiction to ever more stuff. Perhaps the path to our freedom lies through the desert, learning to trust God, learning to love with softened hearts, and learning to be happy with little (but enough).
Welcome to Lent.