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I’m reading a brilliant and challenging book right now, The Sum of Us, whose author argues that white people have lost a lot more than we recognize due to the legacy of racism. We have believed in an old, powerful, and false story: the myth of zero sum.

If you rise, I fall. If you win, I lose. If you gain, it must be at my expense. The author argues that racial hierarchy depends on this premise of competition, and outlines case after case of white people witholding what would benefit them as well – from public pools to thriving schools to better wages – if it means those good things would be offered to those who aren’t white. 

We have given up so much because of this lie. Chapter after chapter, the author outlines the ways that this myth of scarcity has robbed us of things we could all enjoy: affordable higher education, reliable health care, dependable financial institutions. When she points it out, it becomes so obvious. What we refuse for others, we withhold from ourselves as well.  

She’s mainly talking about politics. But what I kept thinking about was faith.

Father Greg Boyle likes to talk about “the illusion that we are separate.” We live a story of individualism, but the reality is that we are thoroughly connected – or, as Scripture would say, we are one. Father Boyle calls this kinship, and says that God’s dream is that we would start to see it and to live like it’s true.

White folks like me have a lot of work to do if we want to recover from our tragic zero-sum ways. If we want to start living a kinship story instead. For one thing, we may have to stop whining when people buried in student loan debt get a small amount of forgiveness (because it benefits us all financially when half the country isn’t saddled in debt, to say nothing of the simple notion of rejoicing with those who rejoice). We may have to admit that our carbon emissions are why Pakistan is under water. We may have to recognize that it’s not only the sick who suffer when so many in our midst cannot afford healthcare. 

We may have to think about the good gifts that we enjoy, and ask the real question: do they really demand that someone else go without? “Enjoy” comes from the Old French enjoier which means “give joy to.” Perhaps it’s inherently impossible to truly enjoy that which we refuse to share. “Enjoy is an odd word,” says Greg Boyle. “It is abundance, a word soaked in the resurrection.”

If there was ever a story that turned zero-sum on its head, it is the story of the resurrection. If there ever was news that could un-do the illusion of separateness, it is the Good News we profess to believe. If there ever was an time when kinship could change the world, I have to believe that time is now.

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

9 Comments

  • John Tiemstra says:

    I would lose my economist badge if I failed to point out that if we each specialize in what we do best and then trade with others, there can be more for everybody. Cooperation and community is the key to prosperity.

  • Duane Kelderman says:

    Scarcity vs. abundance. I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5000 is all about. Zero sum is just another helpful way to get at this. Thank you so much, Kate.

  • Don tamminga says:

    Thanks Kate, think Ill order the book. T

  • Ken Boonstra says:

    Got a T-shirt from a friend. “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It’s not pie.”

  • Jack Ridl says:

    When our daughter was seven she told me, “Daddy, I know the most important word in the world.”
    “You do, Mimi? What is it?”
    “With.”
    “Wow! With. Why with?”
    “Because we are always with. We can’t be not with, with others, with nature, with things, with ourselves.”
    “What does that mean to you?”
    “It means we need to try to always create a good with.”

    That’s what you do, Kate, day after day.🙏

  • Marie says:

    I just want to say that as someone who spends hours a day with mid school students, there might be hope for the future because they see things so quickly. We were talking about Artemis 1 today, and how NASA doesn’t want future astronauts to be like the other 12 people who have walked on the moon (all white guys). After Artemis 1 takes mannequins to the moon, the next trip will have women and people of color, maybe even one of the kids in this classroom. And from the back row, a kid asks, “What color are the mannequins?” They all laugh, because they know what color the mannequins are. We have some work to do, and these kids are on it.

  • Ann says:

    As always, Amen, Kate. And Amen to the responders as well.

  • Edward Hazlett says:

    A very smart girl! When it is put that way you see it. We all need to see, share and LIVE IT!!!

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