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Pack Nothing

On Wednesday, some of us gathered around two long tables for soup, bread, laughter and conversation about why in this time, after all this, do some of us still choose religion? With all the shaming and blaming, with all of the violence and hate, why do some of us still choose to give our time, our hearts, our lives to living a particular set of practices, rituals and stories?

Why religion? Especially now? This week a group of us gathered at Harriet’s house to hatch plans for our role in saving life on planet earth. We talked as big as policy and the Green New Deal and as small as canning and darning socks. And we also talked about the ways Christian theology has been used to harm the earth- the texts from the book of Genesis, scapegoated as permission to use and abuse the sky and the soil and the sea…because we can, because we are in charge, because God gave it to us. One could make a really good case that religion has done more harm than good. The life choices of most of my peers demonstrate that many people claim to believe in a Higher Power, but fewer and fewer are choosing to be a part of a religious community. Some tell me it is because they want their children to be able to decide which religion they want to be. This has always been peculiar to me because whether we like it or not, in this country, if nothing is introduced, what is left is the default religion of the market, where devotion is toward acquiring the right stuff or the right accolades. Introducing nothing isn’t offering everything, it’s almost guaranteeing piety toward the wrong things.

As David Loy writes in an essay called, “The Religion of the Market,” “Today, the most powerful alternative explanation of the world is science, and the most attractive value-system has become consumerism…our present economic system should be understood as our religion, because it has come to fulfill a religious function for us. The discipline of economics is less a science than the theology of that religion, and its god, the Market, has become a vicious circle of ever-increasing production and consumption by pretending to offer a secular salvation.”

“Adam Smith emphasized in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, the market is a dangerous system because it corrodes the very shared community values it needs to restrain its excesses.”1

Some believe they have chosen no religion, when really the Religion of the Market has chosen all of us and forced us to be devotees. It has converted all of us, at least in some way. As Loy writes, “The degradation of the earth and the degradation of our own societies must both be seen as results of the same market process of commodification -- which continues to rationalize its operation as natural and inevitable.”

The Religion of the Market, is indeed the religion of America. A person, a place, a possession is valued only in economic terms, driven by what can be gained from an exchange, motivated by what can be acquired or achieved.

It is no wonder then that so many people are stressed and anxious when they feel as if they are here to get... There is never an end to that. This religion of the market has left us lost, lonely and in debt. And it is the sort of religion that never wants or loves us as we are- instead it says be more, do more, acquire more. More, more, more!

And yet, often what is needed for our own inner peace and peace in the world is just the opposite. It’s not more…it’s less.

We are surrounded by millions of messages telling us that our happiness and wholeness is about having it all, we are told and sold the idea that what we need for this journey of life is to have all the information, power and stuff we can possible gather…

But maybe what we really need is less…. We try to satisfy our thirst with more… but in this season of examination and reflection, let us sit with the thirst…follow it…

In a time when the Israelites had been in exile, distanced from dreams of a life so different from the pain of slavery, the Prophet Isaiah sings out, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters” and we read “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” As if to say, follow your thirst into the ways of a Higher Way... Commentator Kenyatta Gilbert points out that this passage “begins with humanity’s greatest needs (thirst and hunger) it begins with the solitary source for human renewal and the restoration of life. However, the developing narrative reveals another side of God. In unequivocal expression Second Isaiah insists that mystery, not intellectual comprehension, reflects the divine life.”2

We are bombarded with the idea that what will make our lives and the world better is being quenched by- by filling up…

But what if joy comes with following a thirst, emptying, subtracting, letting go, packing nothing?

What I mean is that new possibilities emerge in our lives when we can make space for them. When we show up thirsty and empty, it means we are ready to be quenched. We are making room… I know I am not the only one who has had the experience of showing up to a conversation or a meeting with joy and enthusiasm, only to discover everyone has “packed everything” and brought it right into the room. There are so many agendas present, that there’s no room for God’s.

As the poet Mary Oliver speaks, “Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have… Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.”

Why religion? Because I live in a country whose religion is stuffing our bodies, our homes, our lives and our schedules to the brim. And I need a religion that says: Come, all you who are thirsty. Subtract. Empty. Let go. Leave room. Pack nothing. See what happens. May it be so. Amen.

1 The Religion of the Market by David Loy

2 Kenyatta R. Gilbert in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2, Lent Through Eastertide

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