Note: Can I Say This at Church is produced for audio listening. If able, I strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which has inflection, emotion, sarcasm where applicable, and emphasis for points that may not come across well in written word. This transcript is generated using a combination of my ears and software, and may contain errors. Please check the episode for clarity before quoting in print.
Hey there! Welcome to another episode of The Can I say This church Podcast. I am your host Seth, excited for the conversation today and I think you will be too. To the handful of you that have gone on and rated the show on iTunes. Thank you so much that helps more than you know. The Apple overlords have an algorithm and it likes ratings and reviews. So for those of you listening right now, just hit pause, take 20 seconds, go review this show, I will be forever grateful will send you a bag of Pop Rocks, it'd be great. I would also ask the same thing for those of you and thank those of you that have gone on to Patreon we are slowly but surely gaining steam there and that will only ensure that the show is able to maintain the status quo and hopefully grow in the future and I am forever grateful. For those of you that have taken the time to do that: your time, your commitment and the donations are greatly appreciated.
Today I have the joy of speaking with Dr. Diana Butler bass who is an award winning author of nine books on American religion. She has her PhD in religious studies from Duke University. She's taught at different colleges at the graduate level. She's currently an independent scholar and she lives in Alexandria, Virginia. We discussed a bit of her history, her theological upbringing and the practice of being grateful, and how we as Christians need to look at gratitude through a lens of Jesus, and how we use that to further the Kingdom for today and live in an economy of grace. And so I look forward to to hearing this much, Diane Butler Bass.
Diana, thank you so much for taking the time to join the Can I say this at Church podcast. I appreciate you coming on and I'm looking forward to the conversation today.
Well, I appreciate coming on, and I just love the title of your podcast. Because there are all kinds of things I always want to say at church and hold my tongue. Maybe this is my chance.
I agree. Yeah, say whatever you want, we'll leave it alone. And then any of those questions that you feel like you want to say, just send those to me and, and we'll work through them together. So I'd like to take a little bit of our time at the beginning just to get to know you a bit. What would you want people to know about you a little bit of your story, your background, and then we'll roll into the topic at hand, which is your upcoming book, Grateful.
Well, I think that for the purposes of a podcast with the title you have, is a bit of my, my spiritual autobiography. And I've published rather widely about my own sort of journey. And I was born and raised Methodist in Baltimore, I was born in 1959. My 20 year old daughter loves saying, “Mom, you were born in the 50s”. Well, just as they were ending (laughter), I don't remember them.
So I grew up in a Methodist Church in Baltimore City. And then my parents moved to Arizona when I was 13. And it was there that we just joined another Methodist Church, but Arizona is a very different place than Baltimore. And so I was a young teenager and I went off kind of a my own spiritual journey. From growing up Methodist. I just started going to different kinds of religious and spiritual groups with various friends of mine. Synagogue, Catholic Church; those are sort of the heydays of the charismatic movement in the Catholic Church. Mormon, healing services on the Pima Indian community that was right off of Scottsdale, about two blocks from where I lived.
So I searched around and I wound up in this evangelical Bible Church, which was what I would call “soft fundamentalism”. And it was that kind of evangelicalism that shaped my journey for about the next 10 years. I wound up going to an evangelical College in California, and then an evangelical seminary outside of Boston. And it was there that I figured out, finally, that I was actually really good at theology, and I loved theology. And it bothered me, in the early 1980s, that there were so few women who were engaged in teaching theology, teaching church history, teaching Bible. So I went on to Duke and got a PhD in religious studies. And it was in the years in which I was floating around in sort of the evangelical world that I eventually actually became a member in an Episcopal Church.
When I was in Massachusetts, going to seminary, I joined formally an Episcopal church that was right near the seminary campus. And so I've, for a long time, consider myself sort of an evangelical Episcopalian. And eventually, I sort of began to just drop the evangelical moniker and I realized that my journey was really kind of a big wide journey, in and through American Protestantism, with a lot of curiosity about other forms mostly of Christianity. And so that's my journey, in terms of the kinds of churches that I've gone to different places that I have gone. But all along the way. I've always asked questions.
Where is God?
Where's my heart?
What do we do in the world?
What does God care about?
So these kinds of motivating very experiential questions have always been at the center of my spiritual path and it's pretty good. My birthday is actually not too far in the future as we're recording this just a few days ahead. And I turned 59 this year, and that's pretty exciting to think about six decades of very serious church going and I think my friends would say, of me, that I really have spent now a lifetime reflecting on issues of meaning, of Scripture, of prayer, and of trying to figure out what it means to love God and love our neighbors.
That sounds like a lifetime well spent. side little tangent. What do you find is the biggest difference between a pickup alien or versus, you know, even fundamental evangelical? What is the biggest, the biggest change?
Yeah, it was interesting, the point of crisis in that dual identity of evangelical and Episcopal actually came not too terribly long after I joined the Episcopal Church, although I really didn't want to admit that it was a crisis for a little bit of time. And that was that the years I spent within evangelicalism we're so focused on doctrine, on having to have the correct views of God. And if you didn't think the right stuff about who Jesus was, and how salvation happened, and how to interpret the Bible then your eternal fate was up for grabs.
And so there was a deep concern for orthodoxy in every kind of issue related to life in the evangelicalism that I knew. Which is a little odd in some ways, because in the 18th century, evangelicalism had started out as not a movement that was terribly concerned about orthodoxy. It was concerned about the right relationship of the heart.
John Wesley, who's considered to be one of the originators of the Evangelical movement, his whole experience was that of a heart being strangely warmed. And George Whitfield, who was his colleague, talked about the need to be born again. And neither of those two things is about doctrine.
But by the time of the late 20th century in the United States when I was floating around the evangelical subculture, everything was about right belief. And if you deviated anywhere, you were in trouble; and so that was part of my experience.
Then in the Episcopal Church, originally what caught my attention was that every single week you know, you said this creed, and I couldn't believe that. No evangelical church, no matter how concerned they were with doctrine, no evangelical church I had ever been in said the creed. And so here was this, this church with these beautiful buildings. And this, you know, beautiful, amazing liturgy and these, these rich hymns and the creed right at the center of the service and I thought, “wow, this is cool”.
This is not really like worshiping in a gym and listening to a sermon on how you must be born again and believe that there's the Rapture.
And I joined the Episcopal Church because I thought it unified things that I really cared about.
Yeah, I like that I like that you're allowed to experience emotion because I think you're right. Evangelicalism in my mind is extremely logical. It's it's a or b l, one or zero. And there's nothing in between or that you know, you're not supposed to have anything in between.
Right. And that was what was so amazing to me about the Episcopal Church is that everyone evangelicals, I knew insulted mainline churches by saying things like, oh, they're the frozen chosen. But what I experienced is that actually Episcopalians could be very emotive about their liturgy. That is I would see people deeply moved in church through those written prayers, and through the, you know, as you went through the cadences of the church year, and services of candlelight and services of great darkness, like the Ash Wednesday and Good Friday services, and so so I thought, wow, you know, this is this is really amazing. But the Unity didn't hold a whole long time.
Because I began to see very quickly that Episcopalians would recite these creeds, and they form those frameworks for what they believed. But they were also very willing to question them. And, that really scared me. And so I would look around and I would be in church with people who would be deeply shaped by the liturgy, and then you talk to them during the coffee hour, and you'd find out (and this is, you know, back in the 80s) things like they thought that women could be priests.
I went, “Oh my gosh, how can that possibly be? Isn't that a violation of, of the hierarchy established by God in Genesis and then again in the book of Ephesians” and so they really puzzled me.
And then one day at the church I attended, in Massachusetts, this Episcopal Bishop came and did a adult Sunday school hour.
And that church, because it was right next to the seminary, this evangelical seminary, there were actually a lot of people in that Episcopal church who were very doctrinally focused, even though there were others who were much broader and questioning. So it was kind of a mixed congregation. But the people who were the really doctrinally fixated, folks at that congregation attacked the bishop during this Sunday School hour. And the bishop, I remember sitting in that in that, you know, in the audience that was in a parish hall, and the bishop didn't react…he was not reactive at all. He was not mean back to this attack. Instead, he just said, All I can do is tell you one thing. And that is God is love. And that love is a great mystery.
Well, I think that leads beautifully into the book that you've written. And I wanted to talk a bit about your heart and your mind behind your most recent book, Grateful. I know that you live, you know, in Northern Virginia, and I know that timeline that you have written this book in over the, you know, the past year and a half, two years and just how, mmmm, what's a good word, hateful the world is and so how are you able to insulate yourself from the attitudes from the politics, how were you able to insulate yourself and write a book about being grateful or the act of gratitude?
That's a great question, because I wasn't, I think we live in a culture right now that unless you're a hermit, it's actually impossible to insulate yourself from what's going on in the world. I think the closest thing that we come to, in terms of trying to insulate ourselves is that we create these silos. So at least our engagement of the world, or the way we receive information from the world, is protected is bound read in ways that we approve for that limit us becoming uncomfortable or upset by what's going on in the world.
So I wouldn't say that I was actually insulated when I was writing Grateful.
What I just told you about the the idea that God is love and that love is a great mystery. In some ways, I think that's the the two words sentence that really describes the whole of my spiritual journey. And every project I take on and every question that I pursue in my writing is really shaped by that, that, that God is love and that love is a great mystery. So, when I was working on grateful I actually got the contract for that book and the spring, I believe we signed the contract of 2016. So that meant that during that really horrible, conflicted presidential election year, I was signed up to write a book on gratitude. And so I started doing the research and, you know, just I learned a lot. (I) interviewed a number of scholars who study gratitude and I began reading in a field I had no expertise in at all.
And that is the field of positive psychology and I was really interested in thinking about how positive psychology and theology intersected. And so I'm, I'm doing all that, you know, kind of work. And meanwhile, what's happening, you said in, you know, insulated from the world is that the elections are intruding on this, you know. So I would write or try to write, yeah, I would try to write and then it come up in fixed dinner and watch the news. And it was like, Oh, my gosh, this is horrible. And the election cycle just got worse and worse and worse and angrier and angrier. And finally, that anger that was all around us all, I just got to the point where I had to lay it down and say, Okay, I can't write about gratitude right now.
I can do a little bit more research, but I can't really put anything on the page. I'll get back to it on November 8, and then November 8 happened. And anybody who knows my work, or follows me on social media knows that I am not a fan of Donald Trump. And, you know, it doesn't mean that if you did vote for Donald Trump, you are morally deficient. To say that I don't like Donald Trump is not an attack on anyone who happened to have voted for him.
But for me, it was it was devastating, devastating, painful, almost physical blow when he was elected. And the reason for that is actually in the book, and I don't really want to give a spoiler on that.
Unknown Speaker 19:00
I don’t blame you, it is…one thing I’ve come to appreciate most and…I've been following you on social media for a while. But the stories that are in this book, I think, are relatable to either side, either way, you're going to relate to it, because it's the stories that we have, as the stories that we had yesterday, and the, you know, we're recording this just the day after, you know, horrible shooting in Florida and yeah, I just, mmmm
I mean, the stories resonate and the emotion resonates, which I find is a man is hard. I find emotionally connecting, sometimes it's hard. And you talk a bit about that, how there's the sense that gratitude is somehow viewed as a feminine trait, or not allowed for men, which I think I would agree with. The way I was raised, not the way I was raised, but the way that our culture raises us is you have to be John Wayne, for lack of a better word, you have to be stoic.
Right and there is a lot in grateful which is about how violence and suffering inhibits our ability to be able to experience gratitude. And that's what I was really worried about when Trump was elected. What I had experienced through the campaign's was an increasing amount of public violence directed particularly towards women and persons of color. And as a person who believes that God is love and that love is a great mystery. Watching a culture disintegrate into verbal and actual physical violence is devastating in certain ways. So, anyway, I just, you know, I had a book contract, and I had to write. And so eventually, I after about six weeks after the election, I sort of pulled myself together because I was very upset. And I, I just said, Okay, this book is due, April, whatever it was, I think it was a 15th Tax Day; called the publisher told them I was running late, it would probably come in about May 15. And they said, that's fine. And so what happened was, I wound up writing a book on gratitude and the first 100 days of Donald Trump being President, and it was, it was very hard. And your talking about…gratitude of always involves vulnerability and community, and connection.
And right now those three things, vulnerability, community, and connection are all very frayed in American culture, and so you had asked how they insulate myself. I actually went the opposite direction. There was a time, last Lent, I decided that I wasn't gonna watch very much news on the television. And that wasn't really about installation. That was more about sanity. I wanted to I wanted to control the flow of news that came into my house so, you know, we get the Washington Post and listen to NPR and, you know, we would watch one hour of cable news a night rather than anything more extensive than that.
So I knew what was going on in the world. I just didn't get into every sort of jot and tittle and outrage, you know about it. So, but it was obvious while I was working on the book, that in order to really understand gratitude, I had to at least know the despair of the opposite. And our culture right now is very much riddled with with arguments about gratefulness and appreciation. And I'd say we've lost, in large measure, vulnerability community and connection.
Gratitude really understanding it beginning to practice, it might be a way back toward being a better kind of society. least that's what I hope.
And so with that in mind, for those listening as a Christian, what is what is gratitude? What are we seeking to do…it's just something we feel, is something we have to do? How do we do gratitude?
The first level of gratitude, of course, is that it's a feeling. You know, we walk outside and it's a beautiful day and you say, “Oh, I'm so thankful it's not raining again”. And that sense of wonder or appreciation, just about simple things like that. What we feel, that is gratitude. There are some psychologists and philosophers to say that that's not enough. But I think that that very simple, very primal, human response to when you receive something that you perceive to be a gift, whether it's sunshine or a neighbor coming over and saying good morning or giving you my little bouquet of flowers because she knows you've been feeling bad. That is just like, “wow. Thanks”. You know. And so that's gratitude at its most basic level, a feeling that I experienced that you experience for something good that happens.
But there's another level of it. And that is that idea that gratitude is something that we do. And that level is also one that I think we all have experienced with for good or for ill. And that is if your grandparents give you a present at Christmas, you're supposed to write them a thank you note. So that's more than just how you feel about the present, but it also has to be a recognition and a ritual act, that expresses that gratitude that you return to the giver. And so that is an action of gratitude that’s doing something.
So gratitude is a feeling and it is an action. And those two things, some of us are better at the feelings and some of us are better at the actions. I have known only a scant few people who were good at both.
Most people have to sort of most people when it privileging one over the other. But one of the things of course, that I argue in the book is that feelings and actions, when they're balanced and when they're in harmony is part of health and well being. And when it comes to gratitude, being able to employ both the feeling and the action is I much more full some experience of gratitude. I hear that and in part of me, and probably it's the banker in me hears grandma gives me a gift. I write a thank you note. And so it's, it's a then B, it's transactional and vinyl
I hear that and part of me, and probably it's the banker in me, hears grandma gives me a gift…I write a thank you note. And so it's, it's a then B, it's transactional and I know for myself, how I'm not good at that second half of the transaction. I am one that would never send a Christmas card because most of the people I send it to we don't even really talk. So I don't know why I'm doing this and spending 50 cents for each one of you, to send you to send you a card, which sounds horrible.
But as we talked about before we started recording, that's why I couldn't be a pastor. So how do I…how does…how do you get past the, for myself, the guilt of not being able to reciprocate what the other person probably needs?
Well, that is actually the problem with gratitude is that when someone gives us a gift, there is a required or obligatory response. And that little piece right there the obligation, the debt of gratitude, is something that a lot of people are uncomfortable with.
Yeah because usually I didn’t asked for it [the gift]. I appreciate you giving it to me but, well, I didn't ask for this.
Right. And so now I'm in your debt‽ What! Now I have to, I have to now invite you to a dinner party, or I have to send you a Christmas card or I've got to go out of my way to go down to the Hallmark store and buy a thank you card and spend time writing it, mailing it and put, you know, the whole deal. And so we have had this idea of gratitude as a transaction or an economic exchange. I do this and you do that.
That's not gratitude that's called quid pro quo. And that's what we have gotten in our brains in the United States. We've mixed those two things up, gratitude and quid pro quo. Those are not the same thing.
Gratitude ideally, is free from obligation.
The Giver gives a gift with no expectation of return. So givers have to give gifts freely and beneficiaries return their thanks, not as an obligation, but as a recognition and as a response to the gift. And so, one of the things I argue in the book is that there's a, what I call a, corrupted system of gratitude.
Which I refer to as a debt and duty gratitude. And that is, debt and duty gratitude, is when a benefactor gives a gift in anticipation of what he or she is going to get in return. And then that binds the beneficiary into a relationship, usually an unwanted relationship of exchange, and until the beneficiary carries whatever that exchange is, the beneficiary is in a thrall, in a sense to the benefactor.
That's debt and duty gratitude right there.
Yeah. And you see power as well, at the same time, you're not even intending to, but it seems like you, you're now subservient until you repay what is owed.
Yeah, that's it. That's exactly right. And you hear this all the time in our culture,,you know.
How could you do that to me, I did this for you? You know, it's also royals in our politics. It's like, well, I gave you a donation. You know, if you can imagine. You're some big corporation and you give…well, this is the discussion we're having the day after the Parkland shooting. We've been having a talk dispute a cultural discussion about the National Rifle Association, and they are all these United States senators who have been given two or more million dollars for their campaigns by the National Rifle Association. You know, any kind of political action committee doesn't give somebody $2 or $3 million without expecting a vote in return.
And so what we do know is it on both on the political right and on the political left, there are politicians who have been given big “gifts” by these benefactors. And those benefactors then control the vote. They expect in return, that that politician will vote the way they want. And that is a system of quid pro quo, or debt and duty gratitude. And it's corrupted...it's completely corrupted. And, and so how do you break through that?
The point that I argue in the book is that that kind of vision of gratitude, debt, and duty is actually in violation of our faith traditions. That is not the kind of gratitude that is depicted in any world religion. And because of course, I'm a Christian, as I say in the book, I'm going to write about that mostly from a Christian perspective drawing from the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament.
But the the principles are very much the same in Islam and Buddhism and in Hinduism. The major world religions do not depict gratitude as debt and duty, even though we sometimes act as if they do in our churches. The way Christianity understands gratitude is that it's a gift and a response. Not that duty.
Yeah, I mean, that's Easter. That's Jesus. That's the lens that we need to view everything through, I think. But that's so…it's so hard to do.
It's hard to do because we've been taught a different way in Western culture. But what we've been taught in Western culture is clearly killing us and is a deep corruption of the biblical vision. And so we have to ask ourselves, what do we want? Do we want to live within a system of gratitude that traps us and holds us in debt? Or will we follow Jesus? Who when the disciples asked him,
Lord, how do we pray?
Jesus turned around and said to them, we'll pray this way, as we forgive our debtors.
The central point of the Lord's Prayer is freedom from bondage of debt is the release from relationships of exchange and quid pro quo.
We don't usually think about it like that we usually think about “Oh, Jesus, so forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. So we're going to ask God to forgive us those naughty things that we do, and we're going to forgive the people who do naughty things against us. That's not what it says. That's not what it says in Greek. And it sure is not the heck what Jesus said when he was preaching it in Aramaic.
Jesus said, forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who have held us in debt. And what he's saying is you pray every single day to strike down the system of bondage that holds you and your neighbors in this unhealthy relationship. And instead, you're going to live in the freedom of gifts, and grace.
That's what the Lord's Prayer says. And people can say that it says something different, but I will take them to the theological bank on that one.
I love that I wish there was a podcast version of that Christina Aguilera GIF that you see on the internet that just has her waving her hand saying preach that's I wish there was a an audible version of that!
I do have a question. So its inner woven throughout this book and also some of the some of the stuff that you say online and, and if I'm taking this wrongly tell me; so you reference often “white churches are the frozen chosen” and you have today or in the white Methodist or the white Catholics or the white Pentecostals and I can't think that those choices of words are unintentional. And so is there is there something hindering, quote unquote, white culture or white ethnicity that limits us from experiencing gratitude in a way that a different culture can? Or am I misreading something?
That is that's very purposeful. I am a white person. And so what I knew I did not want to do, I mean, one of the things that actually was very hard for me while I was working on this book, was not only the fact that Donald Trump was president, and that personally hurt me. But the fact that I couldn't imagine that the world needed one more gratitude book by a white lady who was a middle class person. You know, it just was like, it was just like, I don't need that book. I wouldn't buy that book. What? Who cares about that book you know, who lives in the suburbs of Northern Virginia? It was like I’d be offended by that book in some ways. And so I actually had to think through this, very deeply, and pray through it quite extensively. And you know, what I realized, of course, about white folks like me is that we have been some of the main perpetrators of debt and duty gratitude.
Because we were the benefactors.
And we wanted to use our power to stay on top. And as long as we could think of other people, the poor or black folks or Hispanic people, or, you know, whoever—immigrants or whoever it happened to be, as long as we could think of them as our beneficiaries, and we were benefactors, you could use gratitude as a system of control; and this is absolutely true. Not only sort of in our deep psychology, but you can go back and you can look at this all through the history of slavery. And just in the way white people treat black people, you should be grateful.
No, you don't really need affirmative action, you should be grateful that you're even allowed to attend the University of Virginia now; so just work hard and be grateful. And so so why people have often use gratitude as a mechanism to control populations and individuals that they wanted to keep in bondage.
And, and so, you know, sometimes actually, that worked with men and women too. So, white women, often found themselves in that same position when it came to white men. And so, you know, the there's the ultimate benefactor, and then there's all the people who are the beneficiaries of whatever gifts the benefactor chooses to give. So that whole vision is very tied up in the United States with race.
I wouldn't say that I tackle it entirely directly in this book that I pointed out. And I tried to undo it in this book.
No, it's not even it's as I say, it's interwoven throughout. I actually had to go back and reread some some sections to make sure I wasn't isremembering. So.
Yeah, and I think it's really important because what happens is that most white churches reinforce gratitude as a transaction. And that has been, that's a big theological problem for white people and for persons of color and for churches and for our society, is that we seem to have “divinized” the idea of God is the ultimate benefactor and all we have to do is, you know…God gives us gifts, and then we're sort of indebted to God. That's not even grace. I mean, the reformers would be holding their feet over the fire on that, and saying, No, no, no, no, that's not how it works.
God is is not that kind of gift giver. And so, I did not want to speak for persons of color, but I did want readers who are not white, to know that I understood at least some level of the way that this has been, gratitude has been, wielded as a weapon against them, and also the fact that I deeply appreciate; if you ever go to black church, they have so much thicker sort of language and worship and understanding of gratitude. So despite the way that white people have tried to use gratitude against black people in this culture
The black church experience, the spiritual experience of African Americans, actually said, nope, we're not gonna let you do that. But you're also not going to take away our Thanksgiving.
We're going to embody thanksgiving Biblically. And and so I think that communities which have been pushed down by debt and group duty, gratitude are actually communities where we can all learn a lot about what it means to have this alternate vision of gift and response gratitude.
Yeah, A couple final questions. I'm probably gonna say it wrong. But there is a portion in your work that talks about psychology and something called peak experience and how patriotism is fine but the risk is mutating. I think that's the word you use mutating patriotism into nationalism. And I can't see how that's not any more relevant. It's never going to be not more relevant than it is now. Because that's all that you hear all the time. And so can you speak a bit about what that means peak experience and how that mutates our feelings of gratitude or feelings of love or fear.
I'm not an expert and Maslow, who is a psychologist who talks about peak experiences. But you know, peak experiences are these elevating experiences which draw you to levels of gratitude and wonder and you know, the kinds of experiences that make you stand taller and your chest swell and your eyes tear. And they're very dominant kinds of experiences that we have around healing.
You know, when a doctor tells you you're free of cancer, for example, you know, you have a peak experience. Or in religious community, there's often peak experiences. But the place where I talk about it, because I think it's actually most common for many Americans, is around patriotism. And I'm a huge baseball fan. And every year we spend a certain number of our days at National Stadium in Washington, DC. And one of the things I tend not to be that kind of person who has peak experiences around patriotism. For me, it's always around friendship and church. But you know, people have them and every single time you're at the baseball park, there's this stretch where they thank the veterans and play some sort of patriotic song usually Lee Greenwood's I'm glad to be an American. And everybody in the park sort of applause wildly and stands up. And there are people who are like tears in their eyes and the whole thing. And there's vets who are sitting in a special box, and they're all waving to the crowd. And I look at this and I think to myself, okay, this is interesting. And so I recognize that people have peak experiences around patriotism.
And that's, you know, they stand tall, they applaud, tears in their eyes, they feel happy, they feel grateful to be an American, and that's okay. But the line is when you say to yourself, I feel this about being an American. And you can't feel this, about being a Canadian.
Or you can't feel this about being an Argentinian or you can't feel this, about being from Senegal. And the truth is, is that every single person born on this planet was born somewhere.
And that place is their homeland. And that place makes them stand tall. And that place brings tears to their eyes. And that place makes them proud of who they are. And any person who is patriotic about his or her own homeland, should be able to recognize that every other person on this planet loves their own homes wherever they came from and they feel the same way about their home.
But nationalism says that's not possible. Nationalism says there's only one place where you can have those feelings “Deutschland über Alles” Germany over all. The United States is the best and only nation for which you can have those feelings, and everybody else who has those feelings are wrong or misled. And that's the difference. Patriotism, yes. Fine line—nationalism; No!
It's not gratitude if you say, us and only us, but it is gratitude, if you can say, yes, this is a beautiful set of feelings. And this same set of feelings can be accessed by every single human being on this planet.
Because gratitude binds people together, and causes people to be able to emphasize and recognize the full humanity that we all share.
National nationalism cuts that possibility off, and says that only one group possesses those things. And that group is my group.
And so how do we do that as it's going to have to be the church, and you alluded to it earlier, you know, in the early 1800s, that’s what the church did. They loved on people. And so how do we do that? How do we establish and I think he used the words an economy of gratitude. And when I hear that, I think everybody gets to have dessert and the fact that I get two pieces doesn't mean that you don't get seven pieces. There's…there's desert. So if we use that metaphor, how do we make sure that the economy is one that gratitude, and grace, and lack of debt, is not scarce? That it is abundant? What do we do?
Well, I think that's the key right there. And those two words that you just used-abundance and scarcity.
Functionally, most American churches are still teaching a theology of scarcity. And that is, Heaven is above. And, you know, Hell is below. And Heaven has a limited number of tickets. (laughter..) Essentially, you know, we don't always say it quite that way. Although if you're a Calvinist, you actually do say that.
That you know, you have to do something in order to go to heaven. And that it's Heaven is only for the few.
And so we teach this kind of scarcity really of salvation. You know, if you don't do “X”, Well, too bad, you're going to go to “Y”. You know, that's the that's the deal. And we also teach a scarcity of God's presence, you know, unless you pray in the right way to God, God will not heal you, God will not send you blessings. And so we are surrounded in churches all the time by a scarce theology of scarcity. I think this is actually…I think people have noticed this. And I think that that theology of scarcity accounts for some of the popularity say, of the prosperity gospel. Where I think that the prosperity gospel is really trying to teach a theology of abundance, that God is good that God is loving that God's blessings are everywhere. But where the prosperity Gospel goes wrong is they never fully account for issues of evil and suffering. They always blame that on on us, you know, on human beings. And so I actually have some serious appreciation for the Prosperity Gospel, because I think they're trying to correct a very big problem in American Theology, that salvation, that blessings, that goodness, that grace is only for a few.
But they still, the prosperity people, still determine that in terms of economics, and just don't really account for sadness and oppression and if you can't account for those two things, well then it's difficult to see how it really winds up being the gospel. So I think what we need is we need a more, a more fulsome…a more…just…I've used the word fulsome twice in this interview. But that's the word that I like right now. (laughter both)
I think we really truly need a richer, deeper understanding of abundance. And at this point in time the way I understand abundance is that God created.
God created this universe, God created this world, and that God created a world where we have everything we need.
The poet Wendell Berry, that's one of my favorite lines from his huge corpus of work.
Everything we need is here.
And for us as human beings, what that means is that everything we need is here, that that there that the world actually is an abundant world. It's not a world of scarcity,
That what makes it scarce, is when we abuse it and we try to control it. And we make bad choices about it. And for us to reach towards that abundance is to say, no, we're not going to make those choices. We're not going to live in a world where the illusion is that everything is about slices of pie.
But instead, we're going to live in a world where Jesus says, everyone come to the banquet. And we really need to live that way. As if God really does set the table, and if God sets the table, there is enough for all.
And it's no surprise to me that two of the central stories in sort of in corpus of miracles in the New Testament, are very strong stories about abundance. The feeding of the 4000 and the feeding of the 5000.
And that's God's vision of scarcity versus abundance right there in the Bible.
And so that's how I think, at least in our traditions, and there are beautiful, also very beautiful traditions of theology of abundance in the Hebrew Bible. So, Christians and Jews and Muslims all have a deep theology of abundance. Muslims have an amazing theology of abundance that comes from the traditions of the Quran. Where Hagar is sent out in the desert, you know, with her son Ishmael, and they, they actually are going to die of thirst.
And there's a spring that wells up and the spring is Divine, and they drink.
Everything thet need is there.
Everything they need is there and so in the great monotheistic traditions, which are at the core of Western culture and Western values is not a theology of scarcity. That is false! Theology of scarcity is idolatry. It is heresy.
The Bible, Jewish theology, Christian theology, Islamic theology, teach abundance.
And if we don't do that, well, our churches are illegitimate. And our culture is corrupted. And that's pretty good example, what's been going on. We've allowed a theology of scarcity to shape our economic life, and it should not.
I think I could talk to you for many more hours about this, but we don't, we don't have the ability to do it. We don't need to have the time for that. So for those listening, if you haven't pre-ordered or ordered that just just order the book, I can assure you, in the world that we live in and the climate that you need. Everyone can learn to embrace gratitude a little bit better. And I think Diana, you've done a good job. And I don't know that I would have been able to write it with the world that we live in. I'd say I'm certain that I wouldn't have been able too. Where would you put send people to? How can they connect with you and get engaged?
I'm easy to find on social media. I am a very active presence on Twitter. I try to respond to people who asked me real questions and good questions. If they come on to Twitter and just want to, you know, attack me, I will block you. (both laughter)
But I do my best when there's a real serious question that's asked, I do my best to engage it. And also, I have a public Facebook page, my private one is closed, it's actually full. But the public page facebook page is another place to find me through my website, and there's a way to contact me on my website. So you can ask me questions privately. And as I said, I try to engage. I can’t always promise I get to everything. But I do my best.
Excellent. Well, thank you again for your time, Diana. I've enjoyed it. It's been a pleasure.
It was great to meet you. And I'm so pleased that you liked Grateful. And at this point in time, I think it may well be one of the few pathways we have back toward one another, instead of away from one another at this difficult time in the life of our Nation.
Thank you so much for listening.
I would encourage…I would ask for your feedback. Please email us at CanIsaythisatchurch@gmail.com interact with us on Facebook and Twitter. Your feedback only helps to make the show better. If you have like in any way, or have you engaged in any way with any of the podcast episodes that you've heard so far, please consider going to our Patreon page you can find that at Can I say this church com is big huge button up there, like us on Facebook and we will see you in the next episode.