The first Amharic word that I learned upon coming to Ethiopia was “bekah”, which in English means “enough”. Until I learned this word, and learned to say it emphatically, I spent many nights with a sore belly. The culture here is to feed visitors to death. “Eat, eat, eat” and “more, more, more” are the words constantly repeated to us at every meal. Learning how to say “enough” has been a hard lesson for me. Many nights spent with a sore belly has finally driven the lesson home.
Just what is enough? In the US we are accustomed to never having to say enough. Our appetites have outgrown our blessings and we are accustomed to quickly gobbling up the biggest piece of the pie. For us the answer to the question has always been, “it is never enough, and it is never fast enough.”
In America there are a hand full of men, iconic figures really, who we credit with the first inkling of our progress. These represent for us the ideals of where we came from and how we got to where we are. Each of these men carried a tool. Each of these tools they carried slung over the shoulder. So it was that Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett entered the frontier muskets in hand. Paul Bunyan followed with his ax, which made room for Farmer John to make effective use of his hoe. Then John Henry came with his hammer to lay the tracks which brought civilization to that great unknown “the west”.
As we improved upon the tools of progress little thought was given to how or how much they should be used. Our tools have become much more difficult to carry and also more difficult to restrain. There is a fine balance between using a tool and being used by it. Given the chance, Boone would’ve made good use of a shotgun in the Kentucky woods and Crockett may have changed the story of the Alamo with a decent rifle. Paul Bunyan’s ax is no match for a chain saw, even when wielded by a giant. Upon seeing his first plow Farmer John stowed the hoe in the darkest corner of the barn. The only one who seemed to think twice was John Henry. He laid down his life attempting to answer the questions, “is progress at any cost really progress at all?” and, “is the boom really worth the bust that inevitably follows?” For most of our history this question has been answered with an emphatic “yes”.
The Appalachians were felled for newsprint and charcoal. Teddy Roosevelt was able to stay the sawyers hand for a while, but he couldn’t stop the railroad. A spark from the train did what the sawyers could not. In 1910 “The Big Blowup” cleared three million acres. In 1914 what Leopold rightly called a “living wind”, the passenger pigeon, was snuffed out by a shotgun blast for pigeon pie and a rifle almost finished off his prairie neighbor, the bison, just for sport. A bald eagle is a poor representation of freedom compared with a flock of pigeons in the open sky or a herd of bison on the open land. As the 1920’s roared, we turned the prairie soil with the plow and were rewarded with a few good crops of wheat. The bust came in 1929 and in 1930 Farmer John traded his bowl of cream of wheat for a bowl of dust.
Are these things the inevitable price of progress? Do the ends justify the means? Wouldn’t steady, sustained growth get us just as far, just as fast?
Our wealth and technology buffer us now from the effects of our abuse. Our forests are regrowing, patches of the prairie have been preserved because we have the ability to take what we want from the other three-quarters of the world that we call “developing”. In this “developing” world the impacts of environmental damage are real and readily seen. Denuded hillsides, fields hanging on the edge of huge gullies, unseasonable cycles of drought and flood, and polluted rivers are now a part of life here. These just deepen the problems of poverty and sickness that plague this land.
Here in Ethiopia the words “development” and “progress” are at the tip of everyone’s tongue. The rest of the world is eager to have what we have and that is especially true here. Unfortunately, it will never happen. It takes the resources of three-quarters of this world to fill our insatiable appetites. In a world with limited resources there simply is no catching up with us. For the rest of the world to get a piece of the pie we must learn restraint. We must learn to say “enough”.
There was a master artisan living in the countryside, a potter who was known throughout the land. This artisan had a beautiful wife that he loved very much. His wife constantly complained about her work. She complained that the work was too hard and that the utensils she had to use always broke.
One day the artisan set out to make his masterpiece. He poured his all into this work. He created an object that was both incredibly useful and exquisitely beautiful. Upon completing his work he presented his masterpiece to his wife as a gift with the instructions that if she cared for it properly it would ease her burden.
The wife was very excited about her new gift. It lifted her burden greatly at first, but she didn’t heed the artisans instructions and submitted it to rough treatment. She over-loaded it and left it in the fire too long. Soon she started to complain about her work again. Frustrated, the artisan asked her about the pot. She sharply replied that it was useless except to carry out the table scraps.
The artisan was very hurt and went to find what was wrong with his masterpiece. He found it in a corner of the kitchen, barely recognizable and full of garbage. The intricate decoration on the outside was marred by soot, the handle was broken, the rim chipped, and several cracks kept it from holding water. His finest creation had been reduced to little more than a common garbage pail.
We have been given a wonderful gift that was once incredibly useful and beautiful. The fact that it is still useful and beautiful, in spite of our abuse, is a true testament to its creator. However, its beauty and usefulness are fading fast with our rough treatment.
TFC and it’s projects are built around the idea of steady, sustainable growth. The newest of these projects, the Kota Ganate Agriculture Project, is a true example of this. A nation’s natural resources are essential to maintaining its health and prosperity. Ethiopia has few resources left. To encourage an attitude of “take what you can” with no thought of the cost would only lead to more collapse. Instead, we believe that steady growth can be made while protecting precious recourses. This is responsible, ethical, biblical behavior. Usually, it is as simple as knowing when to say “enough”.
We invite you to check out blessedearth.org to find out more about our biblical mandate to responsibly care for and protect this pot that we’ve been given to use. They are hosting a live worldwide simulcast tomorrow for anyone who would like to participate. They also offer information and resources through their website.