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The Theology of Enough

By John McLean Fox.

The following article on 'Individual Behaviour' is an extract from Franciscans and Money by John McLean Fox, a Third Order Franciscan with a wide experience of contemporary business life. This extract will be of value to ministers as a resource to draw on when addressing the topic of money and stewardship with their congregations. The full text of the booklet, with further sections on The Global Economy, Corporate Culture, and Capitalism through to Franciscan Charity can be accessed through the Franciscan website

The concept of a theology of enough appears to be a concept which Francis would have embraced warmly, though he himself always survived on much less than enough, but the definition of ‘enough’ depends entirely on individual judgement, and would be quite different for each person. A teenager (when he badly wanted something) commented: ‘The luxuries of one generation become the essentials of the next’. In a tough economic climate, however, the norm for ‘enough’ can perhaps be lowered to meet ongoing demands less indulgently.

Studies show that the ‘Theology of Enough’ emerged around the mid-70s, evidenced from two main sources:

?         ‘Enough is Enough’ was published by John Taylor, the newly appointed Bishop of Winchester, in 1975. In his book he describes the Hebrews’ dream of shalom being much broader than peace. He referred to the harmony implicit in an awareness of God. It meant a dancing kind of inter-relationship between various elements, ‘seeking something more free than equality, more generous than equity, the ever-shifting equipoise of a life-system. Economically and socially this dream of shalom found its expression in what I call the theology of enough.’ Taylor mentions that the Old Testament has many references to covetousness and greed, but that another quality betsa (Hebrew) - the desire of overriding ambition, and using unjust or fraudulent means - is also roundly condemned. He points out that the New Testament has a stern veto against grasping excess, or covetousness, wanting more and more, and that it is frequently linked to sexual lust with which it has much in common. He emphasises that one should fit one’s own needs to the needs of others and shun an inherent lust for possession and domination. He concludes by saying: “The prodigal son remembered his father’s home as the place where even the lowest paid servant has enough and to spare, and this is the emphasis that the New Testament gives to the theology of enough. Excess is not simply prohibited; it is replaced by a lavish generosity of both give and take.”

?         Habitat for Humanity, the well-known international housing charity, was founded by Millard and Linda Fuller in the 70’s in the USA. Since then it has spread throughout the world, and there is now a branch in the UK that has recently built many houses for people in the poverty trap unable to afford their own home, initially in Peckham, using business sponsors and volunteer labour that includes the new house owners. Millard was a dedicated Christian and his understanding of needs and wants - what he called the ‘Theology of Enough’ - was grounded in his Christian faith. He wrote: “There are sufficient resources in the world for the needs of everybody, but not enough for the greed of even a significant minority.”

This concept, however, really started with Jesus. When he asked the disciples what they had to feed the multitude and they said five loaves and two fishes, he said in effect ‘That is enough’. What is ‘enough’ for us though?

Other writers and theologians have taken up the theology of enough. Michael Schut, the author of Simpler Living, Compassionate Life, says it “allows us to move away from worshipping the gods of consumption and material need. In living out a theology of enough, we will no longer expend our physical resources in consumption and our emotional resources in worrying over status.” John Madeley, writing in the Guardian on 31 January 2009, highlights the implications of ‘enough’ in relation to the economy. He makes the point that employment may fall in firms that make products that go well beyond ‘enough’, but if they were socially useful products, e.g. green technologies, then this could help to stabilise the economy. He suggests that the expectation of year-on-year, across the board economic growth is unrealistic and unsustainable. For an optimistic scenario, he points to an ideal state when economy growth per quarter might rise or fall by 1% without the stock market having a nervous breakdown. The blight of short-termism, the requirement to increase profits every quarter, has been the downfall of many notable businesses in the past, and this is likely to continue in the future if the status quo is maintained.

There is, of course, a downside to ‘enough’; for example, if you are satisfied by achieving only just enough rather than aiming for excellence. However, most organisations nowadays set targets for achievement - in hospitals, schools, businesses - and many working individuals are subject to penetrating personal assessments of their performance each year. This is usually a positive process, and a useful means of raising overall standards through encouragement rather than chastisement. It does, however, raise the question about ‘What is enough?’ when setting these targets.

Franciscan Relevance

The above comments appear to highlight the fact that ‘enough’ can be a delicate balance between excess and scarcity. Franciscans will observe how Francis embraced both simplicity and poverty, and how these characteristics may help us to determine what is enough in a given situation. It is rather like when an organisation has to reduce costs dramatically to survive in a recession; often the first round of cuts don’t go far enough, and to everyone’s amazement, it proves possible to have one or two further rounds of costs before ‘enough’ is reached. The lesson drawn from this is that you can reduce expectations down to an acceptable level by revisiting the target several times. Similarly you can move upwards, e.g. when deciding how much to give regularly to a church; you can perhaps settle for a painless sum at first and then, after challenging oneself, talk the amount up to a more reasonable level (and then again to a sacrificial level if one is sufficiently courageous!). There is no defined figure in such situations - it is a question of judgement, which we well appreciate from trying to follow Franciscan guidelines when spending money on cars, houses, holidays, furniture, etc.

In a tough economic situation, though, what was previously enough may no longer be appropriate, and that is why it can be helpful to look to Jesus and Francis to remind ourselves where our priority values lie. Let’s try to test out some challenges regarding what is ‘enough’:

  1. Eating out: Related to circumstances, once a week, a month, or 3 months?
  2. Holidays: Go away for how many weeks per year? 1, 2, 3, or 4? Spend no more than £1,000 per person per year? Or other?
  3. Charitable giving: 10% of gross income or less - or more?
  4. Housing: Own a house with the mortgage paid off by age 60? Or rent?
  5. Savings: Valid amount for a rainy day, or care in old age?
  6. Entertainment: Go to a cinema, theatre, concert once a week, or month? Buy books, CDs, DVDs or use a library? Own a TV, mobile phone, ipod?
  7. Clothes: One or two new garments/shoes per 3, 6 months or a year?
  8. Pension: Have all steps been taken to optimise a pension?

These are just some key expenditure items to consider - and there are few rules! Everyone will have a different response to the above questions, but for Franciscans this is particularly challenging, especially if one is not well off (many would claim that the volumes mentioned are far too liberal, and should be considerably less if one were a genuine tertiary!).

Another Franciscan quality that relates indirectly to ‘enough’ is simplicity, which is a most attractive quality. In an extract from The First Rule Francis wrote: “But the spirit acceptable to the Lord wishes the flesh to be disciplined and despised, vile, worthless, and blameworthy. It seeks to establish humility and patience, pure simplicity, and true peace of spirit.”

Simplicity is a clean, crisp, ordered virtue that is practical in its application and not overtly spiritual. The outcome of simplicity may well be spiritually beneficial, however, because it enables complexity to be avoided. There are some people who seem to revel in life being complicated, and everything is therefore complicated because they lack the will to aim for simplicity. However, aiming for simplicity in one’s life, both personally and in relation to a career, can be highly beneficial.

A few examples may perhaps illustrate this aspect:

?         Solving business problems: When faced with a difficult problem in business or organisational life it is generally necessary to reduce the number of variables down to a manageable level. In other words, one has to determine which elements are trivial and which are really significant. This is sometimes known as the 80/20 rule. As an example, just take the level of giving in a church; you will normally find that 80% of the stewardship income will come from approximately from 20% of the membership. Consequently you have to identify the key factors in any given situation, and then make decisions based accordingly.

?         Choosing between two or three options: There is a helpful method of choosing between options by identifying the key factors involved, drawing up a list and then rating each factor 1 to 10. You add up the total for each option and then play around with the figures, which helps to identify the preferred option. This can apply, for example, when looking to move to a new house, giving ratings to each factor such as attractiveness, price, location, space, garden, etc.

?         Managing one’s life: We can often face the danger of being involved with too many tasks and activities in life. Aiming for simplicity can help to clarify, when seeking guidance from God, which activities he thought were priorities and which we should drop or not take on. This is a fundamental issue in life, and some Franciscans are vulnerable to taking on too much and making their lives unbearably complicated and demanding. So striving for simplicity when seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit is really helpful.

?         Appreciating God’s world: Looking at the simplicity of nature and observing the sheer beauty of flowers, bushes and trees that just emerge during spring and summer can sometimes overwhelm one. Keeping things simple seems to enhance the attractiveness and relevance of surroundings. A wonderful example can be found with many Franciscan chapels, which are just gorgeous in their simplicity - in contrast to some over-elaborate churches you might come across! This can help one to pray, and it is the unfussiness of Franciscan life and worship that is very appealing - one can envisage Francis as he walked through the fields and lanes of Umbria, spreading peace, love, harmony and joy as he went.

?         Silence: The simplicity of silence is something to be nurtured and enjoyed. Away from the hubbub of life, undisturbed by noise, it is possible for God to speak to us more clearly. There is a beauty in silence, particularly when walking in a park or garden, focusing on God and his love for us. This appreciation may take some years to acquire and silent retreats, particularly individually guided ones, seem strange at first. But the simplicity of silence is worth pursuing!

Tertiaries have long striven in their life to achieve that clear, focused approach which the Franciscan way of life implies. Simplicity helps guide one to determining more easily what is ‘enough’. It is important to do this if one wants to avoid worrying too much about any particular problem, or falling into depression, which it is all too easy to do. Simplicity helps to lift the soul, and concentrates the mind on drawing close to God as a priority - if only we could achieve this more consistently!

Wider Implications

One of the main outcomes of a harsh economic experience is that it seems to highlight genuine lasting assets, such as love within one’s circle of family and friends, one’s connections in the workplace, membership of a church and clubs, and above all one’s relationship with God. You cannot say that any of these aspects merit an assessment of ‘enough’ - you cannot have too much love or companionship; this doesn’t depend on having possessions or holidays, and is not harmful to the community, environment, etc! This is real wealth that we are talking about, based on true values. We shall also be concerned for people we know who do not have much money, and we shall be even more aware of the urgent charitable needs that are not being met as donation levels fluctuate. But we should be positive, and rejoice in the love of Christ we experience that transcends these worldly considerations.

In Timothy Radcliffe’s book Why go to Church? he emphasises that Eucharist means ‘Thanksgiving’. He quotes Ronald Rolheiser: “To be a saint is to be fuelled by gratitude, nothing more and nothing less”. Also Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer I ever make is ‘Thank You’.........that is enough”. We should be reminded of Jesus’ sayings referred to earlier regarding the five loaves and two fishes, and the prodigal son when he yearned to be as well off as his father’s servants: ‘There is enough and to spare’. Doesn’t this really apply to most of us, as individuals and in working lives? So shouldn’t we aim for a positive shift away from acquisitiveness, towards a spirit of gratitude and generosity? This would seem to identify the heart of the theology of ‘enough’. Perhaps there is a need for a radical change in attitude if we are to follow Christ in the way of Francis more devotedly.

Francis poor and lowly enters heaven rich

This was the title of the talk given by Brother Philip Bartholomew, SSF, at an Area Day on 14 March 2009; the title comes from the liturgy of the Transitus, held on 3 October on the eve of St Francis (TSSF manual p D8).

Br Philip illustrated his talk by relating two passages from Scripture to aspects of Francis’s life, as summarised below:

1.        The Beatitudes in Luke 6.20, 23, focusing on ‘Blessed are you who are poor’. He told of observing a woman in an optician’s in CanningTown, East London, the day before, asking how much an eye test would be. When told that it would be £25, her body language demonstrated clearly her utter disappointment, she was completely crestfallen because she could not afford it and left the shop. How could he tell her that she was blessed? Br Philip related this to Francis’ ‘crossover moment’ when he met a leper; he threw away pretence and subsequently adopted poverty as his focus (or bride, he would say). Francis, dressed in fine clothes and probably riding on a horse, saw a bundle of rags at the roadside and dismounted to find that it was a person. Horror of horrors, when the face was revealed it turned out to be that of a leper, apparently a well-known aversion for Francis. But Francis met the grace of God; a shameful object became an object of love and compassion, and he was blessed by this encounter. At first, confronted by poverty, Francis offered his purse to the leper (don’t we all feel absolved by giving money?), but then got closer and the leper croaked, ‘For the love of Christ, give me comfort’. So one might say that Francis got off his high horse into the gutter, encountered and engaged with the leper - and found Christ, the ‘crossover moment’. Francis becomes identified with Jesus, embracing pain and inconvenience to find an inner joy through being identified with the poor. Br Philip indicated that for him as a Friar, who has no possessions, he places an emphasis personally on his use of time when encountering the needy and poor. He suggests that we should always be ready to listen, to comfort, to embrace the poverty of the moment and encounter holy and precious joy.

2.        The Rich Man in Mark 10.17-24, emphasising how shocked the rich man was after being told by Jesus to sell all that he had and give the money to the poor. Br Philip linked this to Francis’ act in giving back his clothes to his father, and, in an unforgettable gesture, publicly standing naked in front of the Bishop of Assisi. Br Philip remarked that God can do great things for us when we stand naked before him. Apparently Francis said ‘I have only one Father’ when he handed back his clothes; the separation of father and son was a tragedy for Francis, and a sacrifice also for the family. So this reminds us of the phrase in Day 27 of the TSSF Principles “.... and gladly give of ourselves, remembering that love is measured by sacrifice” - a telling comment. ‘Losing all, I own the world’ was the cry of Francis. When Francis gave back his clothes, the poor clothed Francis and welcomed him as one of them. Francis really entered the Kingdom when he renounced wealth and identified with the real world, the needy and poor.

One can begin to see how Francis entered heaven rich. He began to appreciate the nature of true wealth, and surely that is relevant to where we find ourselves in relation to our use of money. How do we preach ‘Blessed are the poor?’. Br Philip drew attention to the often remarked ‘cleansing nature’ of a financial recession, which is worth considering more deeply. There have been some surprising outcomes recently, such as Comic Relief raising £59m in 2009 compared with £42m in 2008, up 40% in the middle of a recession! Wouldn’t we say that the Spirit of God was moving them to give so generously? We are a global community and the poor can be found everywhere, particularly in African countries such as Zimbabwe, and perhaps people are gradually realising the compelling reasons for supporting these poverty-stricken areas even more. Br Philip told us he had been delighted when snow brought the city of London to a standstill - it demonstrated that things can be wiped out at a stroke, such as our investments, which seems to reinforce the perception that worldly aspects are not vital.

In the discussion that followed in three groups, a number of interesting points were raised. They included these:

?         A priest described how her church had a number of Zimbabwean members, and consequently that the church was collecting clothes for the people of Zimbabwe, which they would then send through a contact at Harare airport and a Pastor in Zimbabwe. To achieve this they had to collect £280 for one load to get the clothes there; quite a challenge for a relatively poor church.

?         The same church was also concentrating on cookery as a means of reducing the cost of meals. So they had initiated cooking classes and parties, where all the participants were cooking together and having a high old time! The social benefits had been huge, as the communal interaction had proved very stimulating. We heard of another church that has started up cookery classes - for men!

?         One tertiary mentioned that he had been spending time with the homeless in Chelmsford, and he found that the financial crisis was passing them by - they had no money so they were not missing it!

?         Another Franciscan reminded us that many older people were reliant on interest from their savings as their main source of income, and that this had virtually disappeared overnight. We should perhaps be more sensitive to this situation.

?         There was much emphasis in discussion about the nature of true wealth, the values arising from our faith, and that as a consequence we felt that we should perhaps give more money charitably (as people who gave to Comic Relief obviously intuitively thought). The relevance of the Franciscan emphasis on Simplicity was felt to be a priority issue for us all.

?         Whether or not to give money to someone begging was hotly debated. Some were very much in favour of giving (surely we could all spare a pound?) whilst others were doubtful because of the likelihood of the money being spent on drugs or alcohol (and that donations should preferably be given to homeless charities?).

?         Br Philip suggested that we could always pray for poor and vulnerable people, whatever our age or condition. He also reminded us that we have a voice, and should act in specific situations either individually or for a charity implementing a particular advocacy campaign.

?         A young black woman from Africa suggested that the people in the UK have much to learn from Africans regarding life as a community. She claimed that everyone helped everyone else there, rather like being in one big family, very different from what she had found here.

?         We were struck by the words of the leper ‘For the love of Christ, give me comfort’. We felt it important for us to know our own need of God, and to ask him for a more generous spirit. Sometimes we are called upon to offer hospitality of the heart (i.e. time) rather than money.

?         In terms of physical hospitality, friends worshipping at St Mark’s cathedral in Seattle have opened their hearts to homeless people and offered space in their ‘TentCity’ in the Cathedral grounds, ministering to them accordingly. This venture has been mutually beneficial, we are given to understand.

Another thought that has come to mind, emerging from the time when Jesus was throwing out the money-changers from the temple: “Take these things out of here! Stop making my father’s house a market-place!”. This could be taken as a significant symbol for Christians, it is suggested, since perhaps our market places could be more important to us than our worship? We all have to review our financial priorities from time to time. Where are the genuine riches that we are seeking? Are we prepared to sell all that we have and give to the poor? One can only conclude that we all fall short of these high ideals, and it is apparent that we could improve significantly on our commitments, our loyalties to Christ and to the church.

John McLean Fox

Franciscan Tertiary

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You are reading The Theology of Enough by John McLean Fox, part of Issue 48 of Ministry Today, published in March 2010.

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