Journey to the Common Good by Walter Brueggemann

Journey to the Common Good

I have long been a fan of Walter Brueggemann and Journey to the Common Good has not disappointed me. This book constitutes his Laing Lectures at Regent College from a couple of years ago.

Brueggemann talks about the Exodus story as a journey from a culture of anxiety to a practice of neighbourliness drawing parallels with our own cultures and the challenges we face.

The great crisis among us is the crisis of “the common good,” the sense of community solidarity that binds all in a common destiny – haves and have nots, the rich and the poor. We face a croisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny. Mature people, at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interest, transcends sectarian commitments and offers human solidarity. (p1)

Brueggemann presents a very different view of the Joseph story than the one we usually hold to. He points out that Joseph solidified Pharaoh’s power and enslaved the people, manipulating the economy to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few. The situation deteriorates and God intervenes.

The practice of  exploitation, fear and suffering produces a decisive moment in human history. This dramatic turn away from aggressive centralized power and a food monopoly features a fresh divine resolve for an alternative possibility.

This divine alternative comes into being through Moses’ dream of a people no longer exploited or suffering but living in the abundance of shared generosity which is the centre of YHWH’s dream. Brueggeman very helpfully contrasts this to Pharaoh’s dream, a nightmarish dream of scarcity which precipitated the crisis encouraging Abraham and others like him to seek the security of food in Egypt even if it meant slavery.

The bread of the wilderness, the bread that God gives us to eat, is a very different sort of bread. It is the bread of YHWH’s generosity,

a gift of abundance that breaks the deathly pattern of anxiety, fear, greed and anger, a miracle that always surprises because it is beyond our capacity of expectation.

Brueggemann points out that is this bread that fills the Israelites as they stand at Mt Sinai to receive God’s commands, commands that voice God’s dream of a neighbourhood and God’s intention for a society grounded in the common good.

The exploitative system of Pharaoh believed that it always needed more and was always entitled to more – more bricks, more control, more territory, more oil – until it had everything. But of course one cannot order a neighbourhood that way, because such practices and such assumptions generate only fear and competition that make the common good impossible Such greed is prohibited by YHWh’s kingdom of generosity. (25)

This is a challenging and thought provoking book that reminded me of how easily I seek my own good over the common good and how frequently I need to be challenged afresh with the values and principles of God’s new society. Our God is a generous God – not to me as an individual for the accumulation of personal wealth, but to us as a society of God’s people. This type of generosity must be shared, it must seek the common good and it must work for the welfare of all.

Journey to the Common Good, is a must read for all of us who seek to ground our lives in the shared values of God’s abundance and generosity rather than in the acquisitive values of our culture.

Let Us Thank God – A Harvest Prayer

Scarlet runner beans ready for the winter

Scarlet runner beans ready for the winter

It is harvest season here in the Pacific Northwest. The tomatoes are finally ripening, the beans have dried on the vine and the apples and pears are ready to be picked. As I walk out and see the miracle of what has come from tiny seeds my heart swells with gratitude at the wonder of how God provides. each year at this time I write reflections and prayers on the harvest season.

Last year I wrote this reflection: The Harvest is Plentiful But the Labourers are Few;

The year before I posted this: Praying for an Abundant Harvest

And the year before wrote this litany: God of the Bountiful – A Harvest Prayer

And my first post on this theme in 2008: The Generosity of God – Fish and Loaves for all

I had not intended to write another reflection for the harvest season this year – there is so much else that I want to write about. But there is something about this season that calls forth my gratitude and thanksgiving in ways that I realize I cannot deny. This morning it bubbled up within me into this prayer:

God we thank you for a harvest of plenty,

Small seeds that multiply to feed many,

Trees that blossom and produce abundant fruit,

Tomatoes that ripen on the vine with sweet flavour.

God we thank you for abundance overflowing,

Enough for our own needs and an abundance to share,

Enough to feed the hungry and provide for the destitute,

Enough to reach out with generosity and care. 

God we thank you for seeds you have planted in our hearts,

Seeds of righteousness yielding goodness and mercy,

Seeds of love yielding justice and peace,

Seeds of compassion yielding healing and renewal.

God we thank you for the bread of heaven,

Christ our saviour planted in our lives,

Christ our redeemer growing in our hearts,

Christ your Son making us one with you.

God we thank you for the gift of life,

Like water poured out on thirsty ground,

Spring and autumn rains that revive and bring life,

A river that flows from your heart and out into the world you love.

Amen

Is God Really A Generous God?

The generosity of God lavish in every way

The generosity of God lavish in every way

This morning I was meditating on two gospel passages.  The first is the parable of the landowner who hired workers, some early in the morning, some at lunch time and some late in the afternoon.  (Matthew 20: 1-16)  The second was the gospel reading for the day from the Book of Common Prayer – Matthew 6:25 – 34 which starts with the admonish “I tell you not to worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food and drink…  It ends ” Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously and he will give you everything you need.”

This is a scripture that many of us struggle with, particularly in challenging financial times like this when many are seeing their savings and their sense of security stripped away.  Does God really provide we wonder?  Is God really a generous God?  These are hard questions to answer and there are no simple answers either.  But I think that the first of these scriptures highlights part of the problem.  We like to be in control of the generosity of God and we are not always impressed with the generosity of God when it is given to someone else.  We are even less impressed if that person is someone we think is undeserving.

Most of us do not understand God’s principles of economics which I think are best summed up in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 “the one who plants generously will get a generous crop…. And God will generously provide all you need.  Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others…. he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you….

Generosity is at the heart of who God is and who God wants us to be.  We look at what we hold in our hands and don’t think we have enough for ourselves let alone enough to share generously.  So how do we recognize the generosity of God?  here are some principles that I try to live by which I will try to expand on in the next week.

  1. Budget wisely and always spend within your budget.  I find that when I have no budget I often spend far more than I intend on items that do not really matter. (more on this tomorrow).  A corollary to this is only ever shop with a shopping list in your hand and don’t buy items that are not on your list.  It is usually those unexpected purchases that push us over the edge.
  2. Live simply and be frugal in evaluating your own needs so that you can give to others even when you feel strapped financially.
  3. Trust God for your daily bread and act with generosity at the center of your life.  Sometimes we do not see the generosity of God because we take on ourselves the responsibility of provision and in the process we don’t leave room for God.  Tom and I have always given at least 10% of our income away.  We have shared our home, our hospitality and now a growing amount of produce from the garden and we have discovered that the more generous we are, the more generosity God seems to lavish on us.
  4. Look for and celebrate where God has poured out generosity, not just on you but on others as well.  A couple of weeks ago good friends of mine Jack and Cherie Minton who head up Hope Force International  found out that they were the Grand Prize winner of American Airlines “Flights.Camera.Action” contest  Hope Force International, from Brentwood, Tenn., was awarded more than 100,000 Business ExtrAA points – enough for 50 domestic round-trip tickets. The winner will be featured on American Airlines inflight television, a full-page ad in one issue of American Way magazine, banners on AA.com, and more. This is a time to rejoice and see in this event the lavish generosity of God.  Part of what I realized was that as I rejoiced with Jack and Cherie, my trust and expectation that God would provide for our needs too, increased.

Chefs are Competitive, Gardeners Share

As you can tell I am still reflecting on the garden seminar up at Mt Vernon on Saturday which was hosted by Graham Kerr, once known as the Galloping Gourmet.  One comment he made was very thought provoking

Chefs are competitive but gardeners share.

He was referring to the fact that chefs are, on the whole very protective of their prize recipes.  Gardeners on the other hand tend to be open handed and generous, not only willing to share their expertise but also their produce and the techniques they have for preserving and cooking it.

No wonder God is described as a gardener rather than a chef.  Our God is the most generous being imaginable.  This morning I was reading about how God provided for the children of Israel in the desert – manna, the food of angels rained down from heaven, quail in abundance, water from a rock.

But the Israelites did not respond with gratitude and many of them tried to hoard as well, not recognizing that God’s provision, like what comes from the garden, is meant to be shared.  I wonder if that was why Jesus told the story of the rich man who hoarded grain to make a huge profit, only to die before he could sell it.

The garden has certainly taught me to be generous, recognizing that unless I share the produce, it goes bad benefiting neither me nor anyone else.

We live in a world that encourages us to hoard rather than to share but maybe as we learn to garden we too will learn to share as God intends us to.  What do you think?

If You Won $11.2 million What Would You Do? See How one Couple Gave it Away

It is not often that you find people who know when they have enough and generously give everything else away.  That’s what Allen and Violet Large an elderly Nova Scotia couple did after they won $11.2 million in  the lottery.  This is very heartwarming to read about.  Read the whole story here

Generosity not fear

Check out this great post with a poem on Generosity and Fear by Todd Hierstand.

We are living in a time where fear and despair are the overwhelming attitudes. Whether we’re talking about our personal financial situations or our national financial situation or our world’s financial situation these attitudes are prevalent. Fear. Despair.

But as those who profess faith and resurrection, we can’t succumb to fear. We can’t ignore the problems of the world, but we can’t let fear be our master.  Read the entire post

Urban Gardening in Seattle

Suddenly being an urban gardener is very much in vogue here in Seattle.  Not only are people realizing that it can help save money (we probably saved about $2000 because of home grown produce last year) but they are also realizing that it tastes better and it is probably better for us.  Here are a couple of great recent articles about this.

Urban farming sprouts in Seattle

Growing in Seattle: Food Aid from the Home Front

I am particularly keen on the way that gardening enables us to be generous with outhers – in fact my experience is that it forces us to be generous.  There is no way that we can eat through all the zucchini, lettuce, or tomatoes when they are in full production.  If we don’t share they go bad… hmm I suspect that there is food for a sermon there.  Sounds a little like the way God  works – if we don’t share what God gives us but try to hoard it instead it “goes bad”.