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.

Catalysts for God-Inspired Change in a Turbulent World – We Can Make the World A Better Place

We can make the world a better place

Shouting Jubilee and Shalom

The MSA team has just completed two very successful but draining days of planning.  We have talked a lot about Jubilee and our desire to enable followers of Christ to dream new dreams and reimagine how to live and serve God in a changing world with the wonderful shalom future of God in mind.  It seems such an appropriate time to do this as the US government moves relentlessly towards a precipice that could put the whole world wide economy in jeopardy.

How do we live in these challenging times, remaining faithful to God’s call to bring freedom and liberation for all who are oppressed and marginalized?  It is easy to feel overwhelmed not just by the chaos of our times but by the magnitude of the problems around us – climate change, rising joblessness, economic chaos, droughts, floods, starvation, sex trafficking, massacres in Norway – the horrors confront us at every turn and we want to disengage.

Becoming world changers does not start with becoming crusaders.  In fact it is my experience that if we start there we often end up with a worse problem than we started with.

Becoming world changers begins in the place of prayer – not just intercessory prayer where we lift the heartache of our world before God but contemplative prayer where sit in the presence of God sensing God’s heartache and reaching in to the compassion and love that resides only in God’s deepest heart.  Without this we will never sustain ourselves or others sufficiently to respond to the challenging and horrific needs that fill our world.  Our ability to enter into the reality of God’s new world of abundance and wholeness for all only comes when we have given voice to the deep pain and anguish in our hearts.  It is our screams of horror, our tears of anguished repentance and our deep heart centred compassion towards those who have suffered that makes it possible for us to respond and reach out to strangers as though they were our closest friends.

 

However we will never become world changers if we spend all our lives sitting in a quiet secluded place weeping for the world.  Contemplation requires active engagement.  It frees our hearts and our minds to look beyond ourselves and our own desires and infuse all our actions with love and compassion.  It enables us to lay down our own self centred lives and desires for personal significance so that we can be truly open to the spirit of God acting in and through us.

In all that we face in our turbulent, dysfunctional world at the present time we need to remember that though we feel we have lost control, God has not.  We don’t need to ask why but rather what can I do in order to bring glimpses of God’s new world into being?  What is God already doing and how can I become a part of it?

Often the moves of God that are transforming our world really do appear as hidden mustard seeds planted in dark places.  And often they sprout and grow before we even realize that something has changed.  So look around you today and see where God is at work.  Join in and together we can transform our world.