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.

Learning From Stress In Times of Financial Crisis

The group writing project What I have learned from Stress, initiated by Robert Hruzek’s on Middle Zone Musings really caught my attention this month because I don’t think that there has ever been a more appropriate time to talk about financial stress and  the growing economic pressures we are all aware of at this time.  For those who enjoy riding the roller coaster at 6 Flags the current economic crisis might provide excitement but for those who are watching their savings dwindle and their chance for retirement disappear it seems more like crashing into a mountain at high speed.

I have never had a stable income and for most of my life have had to raise my own support as well as support for the ministry I was involved in first as Medical Director of Mercy Ships and now as CEO for Mustard Seed Associates.  This is commonly called living by faith. though I am not sure that faith has always come into the way I coped with this method of supporting myself.  I well remember one occasion on which I needed to raise about $10,000 for a recruiting trip that a friend and I were making around Europe to raise awareness of the ship ministry.  As the time of our departure grew closer my stress level soared.  I lost weight because I couldn’t eat, I got irritable because I couldn’t sleep and worried myself sick because I was not sure where the money was coming from.   The last of the money we needed for the first part of our trip came in 2 days before our departure date.  As we travelled God faithfully provided all that we needed for the next step of our journey. It wasn’t the way that I wanted it to happen but it certainly taught me a lot about trusting in God.

I think that God is a strong believer in what I would call the “just in time” delivery system.  So often we focus on what we think we will need next week, next year or even in ten years time and we get anxious when what we have accumulated doesn’t seem to be enough or when as in the current crisis what we thought we had suddenly seems to slip away.    It is very hard to relax and trust that God will provide.
One of my favourite Bible passages about God’s provision is:. And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. (2 Cor 9:8, New Living Translation). I have learned over the years that God does provide for our needs and often God provides richly and abundantly far more than we can ever imagine.  However God provides not so that we can accumulate for ourselves but so that we can share, otherwise what we already have is likely to go bad before we are able to use it.

When we face financial insecurity as many of us do at present, it is easy to focus on the seemingly scant resources we hold in our hands and our stress skyrocket. Trusting in God’s promise of abundance and generosity is almost impossible and so we can easily become tightfisted.and selfcentered. Yet often God’s miraculous provision only comes when we share the seemingly paltry provisions we hold in our hands. Like the way that God provided for the widow and her son who shared what they thought was their last meal with Elijah. Or like the way the young boy who shared his small helping of fish and loaves must have watched with awe and wonder as Jesus used it to feed thousands. The best way to deal with our financial stress is not to worry about how we are going to accumulate more for ourselves but rather to focus on how we can be God’s compassionate response to those who have less than we do.

I am convinced that God has a different way of doing multiplication tables. When I share generously of the provisions God has placed in my hand it often seems to multiply in awe inspiring ways that confound my understanding and that prodces joy not stress.

As we look ahead to what will probably continue to be financially insecure times, I think that all of us need to ask ourselves: What are we holding onto that God intends us to share? How can we reorient our thinking and remember we trust, not in the diminishing resources we feel we hold in our hands but in the God who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. (2 Cor 9:10)