Scarcity and Abundance
A few times a month, I help staff resource shelters with Open Table Nashville, a homeless outreach and advocacy organization. I serve as an innkeeper and basically help keep everything running at these shelters throughout the night, providing hospitality, answering questions, resolving conflicts, meeting simple needs, and monitoring any crises that may arise. Sometimes it is also the innkeepers’ responsibility to make sure dinner and breakfast happen for our unhoused friends, as well as rousing people in the morning and encouraging them to clean up after themselves and their cot area. I see my role as providing abundant hospitality in hopes that it can lessen the sting of scarcity in my friend’s daily lives.
However, scarcity is always present at the resource shelters, most notably with food. Meals are donated from local nonprofits such as the Nashville Food Project. Grocery stores will also sometimes donate their day-old breads and various breakfast items. While the other innkeepers and I strive to prepare a hot meal and coffee, we can never please everyone. We do our best to make sure everyone gets a meal by letting everyone know when the food is ready, but sometimes our friends take their time. They are often not given the opportunity to take their time anywhere else on the streets as they were continually unwelcome anywhere they go. Our shelters try to provide a short respite where they are not rushed; however, it never fails that someone waits too long and by the time they come to get their share of food, it is gone. Many times I have tried to explain to an irate guest that we told them their food was ready and so goes the “I don’t know what to tell you” speech. There is no more food.
It is usually in the following moments of trying to calm myself down and reassure myself it is not my fault the food is gone that I remember when Jesus fed the five thousand. Sometimes, I wonder if anyone came up to him wondering where their share of food was. I wonder if there are stories left out of Jesus preparing a meal for his friends and then it not being warm enough when it came time to serve, or stories left out where his friends told him the food was disgusting, or stories left out where Jesus was overwhelmed by the number of hungry people but couldn’t bring himself to turn the stones into bread. There is no more food.
I don’t want to tell my friends at the shelters to quit their resting and come get their mediocre food before another hungry person eats it up. I don’t want to yank them out of the only hot shower they will get this week so that the scarcity of the food won’t be as noticeable to their already rumbling bellies. What I want to tell them is, “Sure, I’ve got another 4,999 shares of bread and fish for you right here in this basket. Would you like butter or tarter sauce with that?”
But sometimes, there is no mystical multiplication. Sometimes there is no more food and sometimes feelings are hurt and the belly continues to rumble and tempers run high. Off they go back into those harsh streets. When I lived at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia, my friend Ed Loring used to talk about the concepts of scarcity versus abundance on the streets. Our homeless friends have been conditioned into scarcity because of how the world treats them. Rest is scarce; cops are always on the prowl telling you to move along, keep it going, pick up your bags, you can’t stay here. Food is scarce; when you do manage to get to a church or shelter for a feeding, the workers are mean to you, you can’t have seconds, and won’t you free up your seat for the next hungry person? Dignity is scarce; people don’t treat you like you deserve a good meal or a good rest.
But in the Beloved Community, there is abundance. There is always another helping of food and there is always an open chair at the table of community. There is always a free bed and a hot shower and enough clean clothes. There is always dignity restored, respected, acknowledged and celebrated. To borrow an image from Paul, we know in part what the Kin-dom of God is like. We can recognize it, though most of the time we only see glimpses of it. I don’t know when we will see the full actualization of the Kin-dom of God, but I hold hope that we will one day.
While the Kin-dom of God is close at hand, it is also sometimes very far off. Far away enough to only catch a glimpse. And sometimes, there is no more food. Until then, we continue to practice resurrection and mirror abundance as best we can. We continue to remember the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. And we wait for more food to appear. Until then, there is love.
“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an endl as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part and we prophesy only in part. But when the complete* comes, the partial will come to an end…for now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 12-13)