The Common Good

Interdependence Day

As we celebrate our nation’s independence this week, it’s good that we also celebrate our interdependence. Everything that we do, everything that we have, all that we are bears the fingerprints of countless others from around the world who have brought us to this moment and sustain us in it.

We tend to overlook this reality. We like to think of ourselves as independent. We dread those times when we feel dependent upon others — when we’re sick or struggling and need some sort of assistance. We’d rather do it ourselves and feel independent, even though we‘re really not.

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The Post-Cynical Christian

Skepticism is a good and healthy thing, I told every audience. Be skeptical and ask the hard, tough questions about our institutions — especially Washington and Wall Street. But cynicism is a spiritually dangerous thing because it is a buffer against personal commitment. Becoming so cynical that we don’t believe any change is possible allows us to step back, protect ourselves, grab for more security, and avoid taking any risks. If things can’t change, why should I be the one to show courage, take chances, and make strong personal commitments? I see people asking that question all the time.

But personal commitment is all that has ever changed the world, transformed human lives, and altered history. And if our cynicism prevents us from making courageous and committed personal choices and decisions, the hope for change will fade. Along the way, I got to thinking how the powers that be are the ones causing us to be so cynical. Maybe that is part of their plan — to actually cause and create more cynicism in order to prevent the kind of personal commitments that would threaten them with change.

And this is where faith comes in.

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10 Decisions You Can Make to Change the World

After traveling the country this spring — while keeping an eye on Washington, D.C. — I am more convinced than ever that our personal decisions, choices, and commitments will change the world more than our politics. The message in the Epilogue to On God’s Side says this as well as I could do again. It’s short and very practical. Here it is:

The common good and the quality of our life together will finally be determined by the personal decisions we all make. The “commons” — those places where we come together as neighbors and citizens to share public space — will never be better than the quality of human life, or the human flourishing, in our own lives and households.

Here are ten personal decisions you can make to help foster the common good.

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WATCH: Would Putting Me in Prison Serve the Common Good?

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world — about 1.6 million people in 2010. Mass incarceration in our country is a problem, one that too often serves to line the pockets of for-profit prisons while tearing families apart and targeting people of color disproportionately. 

Beyond Bars — a project to curb mass incarceration in the U.S. — produced the following video that puts faces to that problem. Watch the moving video below, and ask yourself the question: would putting them in prison serve the common good?

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Monasticism, Beloved Community, and The Common Good

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.

Benedict of Nursia is on my mind this morning as I ponder what it is that Jim Wallis is trying to accomplish with his new book, On God's SideAdam Ericksen pondered the virtues of baseball, winning, and losing in his post from earlier this week. Adam questioned the metaphor. What do we do with our losers? How can we all win?

What would it mean if people of faith began transferring their human identities from class, racial, and national loyalties to a global identity in a new beloved community created by God?
~ Jim Wallis, On God's Side

Today I'm wondering about where Jim was when he started pulling all of this together. Jim shared that he went on retreat (a good practice, in my humble opinion) to gather his thoughts for this new book. He went to a monastery (also a good practice, in my humble opinion). He prayed the hours. He wandered the grounds. He spent some time in silence. He read the Narnia books and gave some serious thought of C.S. Lewis' Aslan. All of this led to a question, well, many questions, but this question I've pulled out is what caught my attention. What if, indeed, Jim. What if we were to do this thing ... the beloved community?

It is no surprise to me that this question would emerge while Jim was at a monastery. Of course it would. And that he riffs on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a way is also wonderfully telling. "Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives," said Dr. King. Our souls must change. So too must our lives. Dr. King said much about the beloved community. So too did Benedict of Nursia.

There's so much to say here. I'm a little stumped. The beloved community is the Church, but it is exemplified by the monastery where people relinquish their individual control of their worldly goods. Monastics take vows to pray and work together. There's a shared rhythm of life. There is a shared mission. It's a challenging and difficult life, and not all Christians are called to it. Obedience, stability, conversion of life. If we want to be the beloved community, then the we must avow ourselves to such a Rule. Indeed, we must give up our personal or private identities to the service of all. 

But how do we do this as a culture, a global church?

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VIDEO: 6 Months After Superstorm Sandy, Hope Emerges

This week marked six months since Superstorm Sandy left entire communities devastated, families homeless, and many with little hope. But in the midst of this natural disaster, many banded together. As is true with many of our nation's tragedies, recent and throughout our history, communities form and hope emerges amid struggle. Sandy taught us about resilience. It showed us what it truly means to reach out, serve, and love our neighbor. 

One young filmmaker in New York, Farihah Zaman, caught that resilience and acts of service on video. Here, she shows us how tragedy can turn into a joint effort to acheive the common good. 

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The Spirituality of Sports and the Common Good

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.

In his post “Lattes for the Common Good,” Tripp states that working for the common good starts in mundane places, like a coffee shop. These are the places where we practice neighborliness. Here’s Tripp’s brilliant point:

I wonder if one of the things that we can think about in terms of the common good is learning to practice neighborliness in the inconsequential moments so that when we face the bigger political difficulties of our shared life — when we start talking about the common good in the larger sense around some of the other issues like violence, and fear, and money — that maybe if we've already built up habits we can have these larger conversations with greater ease.

Jim Wallis says something very similar in his book On God’s Side. When it comes to the common good, Wallis states, “I have never seen the real changes we need come from inside politics. Instead, they come from outside social movements” (295).

According to Wallis, for those social movements to make any real change in our politics they must be based on the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Indeed, On God’s Side begins with a reflection on the Golden Rule. And, as Tripp says, “learning to practice neighborliness” is learning to practice loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

But there is a tension in Wallis’s book that, for me, is unresolved. That tension is clearly seen when Wallis talks about baseball.

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Lattes for the Common Good

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.

"I'm hesitant to talk about the common good as if it's a discovery. This is not news. But maybe, maybe Jim's right in that we've forgotten how to practice it. So this is what I want to know, invoking the spirit of Fred Rogers as I do it: 'Who is your neighbor?' ... Because I wonder if one of the things that we can think about in terms of the common good is learning to practice neighborliness in the inconsequential moments so that when we face the bigger political difficulties of our shared life — when we start talking about the common good in the larger sense around some of the other issues like violence, and fear, and money — that maybe if we've already built up habits we can have these larger conversations with greater ease."

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(VIDEO) Stories That Change the World

Stories are what change the world, more than just ideas. And that’s what I am seeing and hearing on the road — stories that will change people for the common good. Nobody outside of Washington trusts Washington because there are no more human stories — just money and the calculations of power.

But even Washington can be affected by the stories outside of Washington — take immigration reform for example, which will happen despite the political paralysis. People of faith are telling their stories of conversion to what their Bibles say about “the stranger.” They are telling stories of new relationships with their “undocumented” brothers and sisters. And their stories are changing Washington.

So rather than just offer you more “ideas” about the common good, we are going to offer you some stories about how ordinary people are creating it. 

Some talented young filmmakers have created stories to inspire you. This first video tells in beautiful scenes, the story of how a group in the Dominican Republic is using a recycling program to fund senior services. It’s about community and about serving our neighbors. It is a real inspiration for working within our own spheres of influence for the good of all.

Watch. Listen. And then create your own story for the common good.

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Creating Culture of Unity through Interfaith Cooperation

I agree with Rev. Wallis — focusing on the common good is a good step toward answering the question of how to be on God's side, and solving many of our nation's greatest points of division. In a country as diverse as ours, however, it can be challenging to know what the common good actually is. As individual participants in society, we all come to the table with different ideological structures for framing our understanding of what is commonly good. Those structures are often built around religion, philosophy, and our beliefs and understandings about existence, mortality, and the cosmos. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that we live in, arguably, the most religiously diverse nation of all time.

Yes, Jesus has called me to love my neighbor as myself, but what does that really mean when my neighbor is Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, secular humanist, or Hindu?

Religion is often blamed for the world's greatest conflicts, and rightfully so. One doesn't have to look far to see conflict or violence that is linked to religious motivations or sentiments in some way (think the tragedy at the Boston Marathon or the Sikh man that was murdered shortly after 9/11 because he was wearing a turban). In a country that becomes more religiously diverse every day, it is easy to allow conflict to arise between different religious and non-religious groups. It is true, difference in religious and philosophical ideology can be a cause of great division. But what if I told you it doesn't have to be that way?

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