The Common Good Amid Individualism

By Patrick Briggs 4-15-2013 | Series:
Two churches,  Silva Vikmane /
Two churches, Silva Vikmane /

We have a special community here in Pasadena, Calif. There are incredible resources available to those who live and work in the area: Caltech, The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, The Rose Bowl, the Angeles National Forest towering above us, The Huntington Gardens and Museum, The Norton Simon Museum, and many diverse religious institutions including Fuller Seminary. Yet we are also a divided city, a portion of which benefits much more from these institutions and a portion of which does not. A neighbor of ours who is a professor at Occidental College describes Pasadena as a "A Tale of Two Cities."

It is in this environment that my wife, Maddie, and I have been realizing that as Christians and activists, we have both an obligation and an opportunity to engage in effecting change here in Pasadena. We've also discovered that we can find great joy in the work of being in community with others for the purpose of bringing God's Kingdom ('Kindom') to all people who live in Pasadena. A city divided by extreme income inequality—an inequality mirrored at the national level—represents a challenge and a chance to make a difference.

As Americans, we live in a culture that is hyper-individuated, fragmented, and dehumanizing as it pushes a mantra of success based on material accumulation and power. Being in community with others is the countercultural answer to this. Doing so with others unlike ourselves is an important part of this. At the end of the day, above the polarization and partisanship, there is much we can do to promote the common good together. As Maddie put it at a meeting that brought Christians of opposing social interpretations together, "We may never agree on some issues, but that is not why we're here; we're good people, you're good people, let's do good together."

We are members of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. Our faith has been foundational to our political activism over the last 10 years. There is another church in Pasadena that we've begun to take an interest in developing a relationship with:

Lake Avenue Church. The former is known as a liberal church and the latter, a conservative one. So what are a couple of liberal activists doing, taking an interest in a conservative church? 

Oddly enough, the answer comes in part through our having co-facilitated an interfaith program between All Saints Church and the Islamic Center of Southern California. In that experience, as we studied each other's faiths, we discovered our common humanity and found a beautiful and rewarding experience of togetherness and kinship.

While there continues to be work needed to advance interfaith dialogue in our community and nation, there also needs to be energy put toward intra-faith work. Other progressive churches readily join in with All Saints Church in the pursuit of social and economic justice — and we wondered how a more conservative evangelical church would take to the idea.

We discovered that setting the stage could be as easy as extending an invitation, gathering together and exchanging ideas, ultimately arriving at the idea that "Good people can do good together." We're now looking forward to a series of events with each other, including a focus on poverty here at home with the Sojourners initiative and work revolving around the evangelical Christian initiative "I Was a Stranger" on the subject of immigrant issues.

One of our mutual goals is to understand our faith though new perspectives — not to change each other’s minds about each other's mutual faith. From that, we hope to find collaborative justice opportunities once we get to know each other, ultimately moving Pasadena toward one whole community, one whole city, for the common good.

Patrick Briggs attends All Saints Church in Pasadena, and is a leader in the Occupy Democracy-Pasadena movement.

Image: Two churches,  Silva Vikmane /

Don't Miss a Story!

Get Sojourners delivered straight to your inbox.

Have Something to Say?

Add or Read Comments on
"The Common Good Amid Individualism"
Launch Comments
By commenting here, I agree to abide by the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant guidelines and acknowledge that my comment may be published in the Letters to the Editor section of Sojourners magazine.

In This Series