Commercials are a running commentary on our culture, and I love them for it. Two of my favorite commercials from last weekend’s Super Bowl were both car commercials: The Dodge Ram-Paul Harvey-God made a farmer commercial, and the Audi prom commercial.
Full of white space, still shots, and silence, the Dodge commercial features Paul Harvey’s iconic voice waxing eloquent about why “God made a Farmer.” The visual and auditory effect of the commercial are extremely captivating. When it’s over, you want to be a farmer. Audi’s prom commercial follows a forlorn boy about to go to prom alone. Suddenly his father tosses him the keys to the Audi S6. Once at the prom, he walks straight up to the prom queen and grabs her and kisses her. She is clearly impressed. The prom king is not. The final scene shows of the boy driving home in the Audi with a big grin and black eye followed by the phrase “Bravery: It’s what defines us.”
Both commercials are for cars, but what they’re really selling is an identity.
That’s the message of advertisement after advertisement. You aren’t enough. You don’t have enough. You aren’t whole. You’re life isn’t what it should be, but if you buy this it can be. My friend Shane Hipps left the advertising industry because he realized that “the measure of his success in advertising was his ability to promote a counterfeit gospel.” With that message constantly ringing in our ears, it’s no wonder that in a culture of abundance, many of us are driven by scarcity and anxiety.
Years ago I heard an adoptive parent speak of the crippling effect of scarcity. This family had just welcomed their adopted child home, and on this particular day, the mother had made muffins for everyone. She had made one muffin for everyone, and, as mothers do, got busy making plates. When she finally turned around for her own muffin, it was gone. So was their adopted child. After several minutes of searching, they found him inside a closet with both muffins stuffed in his mouth and tears streaming down his face. When scarcity is how you see the world, it shapes you into the kind of person who takes what’s there because you don’t actually trust that it will ever be there again. So, driven by anxiety, we grasp, snatch, take, hoard, and compete for everything we can get our hands on. Nelson Rockafeller was once asked by a reporter how much he thought he needed to live comfortably. His response? “A little more than I get.” And so we seem to live in a world that has no concept for the word enough.
As I think about the economic displacement I saw in Mexico and how it’s fueling the immigration issue, it seems clear that no matter what kind of immigration reform happens, if that reform doesn’t address economic development in Mexico, then it will fail to address the root cause of the problem. While in Agua Prieta, Mexico, I saw traces of what can happen when this root cause is addressed. Cafe Justo is a small coffee cooperative that aims to help farmers and their families create sustainable, small-scale international businesses in which the families are the shareholders.
And yet I don’t think creating economic opportunity in Mexico is the only way to address the root causes of the current immigration situation. If, “in a consumer culture whose civic religion prizes consumption as the height of human flourishing” (James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom), we could develop an imagination for the word enough, it might make a world of difference.
Is it possible that something as simple as the practice of gratitude could begin to free us from the anxiety of scarcity? In his book Yearnings, Rabbi Irwin Kula tells of a song sung after the Jewish seder meal called dayenu, which literally means “it’s enough for us.” The song remembers the many events through which God had rescued, provided for, and brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. After each retelling, that word, dayenu, is sung. Gratitude is not simply a feeling that wells up in us. It’s also a spiritual practice that can grow us into the kind of people who believe, “It’s enough for us.” It might just be that grace begets grace. Practice gratitude.
“You say grace before meals.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and the pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
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