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December 1, 2010

When enough becomes more than enough

“Wow,” I said as I took another bite of Terri’s delectable chocolate birthday cake. “That is so satisfying, 

I could stop right now and have my sweet fix met.”

“Why don’t you then?” asked my son.

I didn’t look up to determine if the question was a real inquiry or a challenge. I also didn’t stop eating cake. More cake on my plate meant I would eat every bite and scrape the plate so clean it could almost bypass washing.

After all, I’m not only a card-carrying member of the Clean Plate Club, I’m also grandfathered into the Over-Consumption Alliance by virtue of my birth as a middle-class American, where our motto is “If some is good, more is better.”

Psychologists and nutrition experts explain our fixation on foods, noting how certain foods stimulate our brains, our taste buds and our bodies. It all sounds so very mechanical and logical. Had I thought of it, I could have replied to Steven, “I’m captive to my palate.”

More foundational than our over-developed taste buds is the under-development of our “enough” trigger, the device located somewhere within us that recognizes when enough is enough.

But is enough ever enough?

The phrase “enough is enough” is usually uttered in frustration, when one hits the limit of tolerating something unacceptable and refuses to take any more. “OK, I’ve had it. Enough is enough.”

Can “enough is enough” also describe moments of contentment? Perhaps this phrase could be reconstituted to mean, “As attractive as this is, I don’t need any more. Enough is enough.”

Usually when asked, “How much is enough?,” people — present company included — no matter their station in life, respond, “Just a bit more than what I have now.”

Really? Why the need for more? What emotional or spiritual taste bud is being titillated in our striving for more?

Those who have awakened to the realization that Earth’s resources aren’t here for us to gobble up like so much cake on a plate argue that our penchant for more is killing our formerly self-renewing planet. Gulf oil spills, mountains obliterated by coal mining, and air polluted by quick-fix transportation plans are evidence that our desire for more is burying our future in garbage and robbing our children of their future.

But beyond the very practical environmental concerns lies a deeper question: Is it possible that we humans have forgotten our place in life? Have we promoted ourselves to center stage, grabbing the microphone like Kanye West at the Grammys, as if we were the most important game in town?

My favorite show of yesteryear, “MASH,” had an episode where the medical team embarked on a mission to evacuate wounded soldiers. Upon returning to base camp, the bus broke down, and they were forced to spend the night in enemy territory, tired and hungry. Frank, the ferret-faced, self-righteous surgeon (who resembles a certain senator), had a satchel full of chocolate bars, which he opted to hoard rather than share among the crew. To any observer, Frank looks small, selfish and downright tacky. But ol’ Ferret Face may be more like us than we care to admit.

Addicted to consumption as we are, doctors have developed lap bands and gastric bypass surgeries to limit intake and force moderation.

Where can one go to get this procedure for the soul?

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. (We) will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation.”

That these thoughts arise as Thanksgiving gives way to the orgy formerly known as Christmas is not merely the seasonal rant hoisted on a holiday-sodden populace. The beef is not with the secularization of the season; we don’t all believe the same things and shouldn’t be pigeonholed into a particular religious expression. Neither is the concern with commercialization; commerce makes the world go ’round.

What’s amiss is the absence of plentitude. When is enough really enough? When can abundance translate into generosity of spirit? When will our desire for more be transformed by the mystery of More?

The author is pastor of Highland Baptist Church at the corner of Grinstead Drive and Cherokee Road. Go to www.hbclouisville.org for more.

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