The (Un)Common Good

October 14, 2014

Jim Wallis’ book The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel brings hope to a world dividedis a reissue of his 2013 book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good.  The book is a call to move beyond personal and partisan concerns and to consider what is best for everyone. Wallis’ claim is that Christians have something important to contribute to our national discussion. In fact it is because we are commanded to love our neighbor and our enemy, that we must participate in the common good.

Sometimes Wallis is dismissed as too political or too liberal and if you think that, I encourage you to read this book. His discussion of the common good surpasses simplistic liberal/conservative and political/religious divides. He is not simply calling for more government programs but rather for changed lives.

Wallis writes, “But the public discussion we must have about the common good concerns not just politics but all the decisions we make in our personal, familial, vocational, financial, congregational, communal, and yes, public lives. It is those individual and communal choices that will ultimately create the cultural shifts and social movements than can change the world and turn history in different directions (kindle loc 178)

The book is divided into two parts. Part One is “Inspiring the Common Good” and here Wallis lays out his deeply Christian reasons for believing the common good matters.  Briefly stated, being Christian involves more than just where you spend life after death. Being Christian involves how we live in this world. Faith is more than politics. There is more to faith than right wing issues, but we also need more than a religious left to balance out the religious right. And faith needs to be lived out in our life together for the common good.  “Don’t go right, don’t go left; go deeper” (kindle loc 282)

The second part of the book explores practices for the common good – civility, democracy (for Wallis democracy finds its warrant in the biblical idea that all persons are created in the image of God), economics, service, justice, strong healthy households and how we care for others.

Wallis ends the book with 10 personal decisions he encourages his readers to make for the common good. My conservative friends might be surprised that the first item is ” … make your children the most important priority in your life.” and the second “If you are married, be faithful to your spouse.” I’ll let you read the book for the other 8.

Wallis wants Christians to think seriously about what following Jesus demands of us. We may not agree on all the details but if we step back and talk to each other- about family and neighborhood, and jobs and what makes for a good life we might discover we have much more in common that we have been led to believe. We have nothing to loose but our divisions.

Note: I received a free e copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review.

:God has a Plan: Plans and goals 2

September 20, 2014

In my previous post, I wrote that while I don’t think God has “a plan”, I do think God has a goal and a purpose for creation. I think my main difficulty with the idea that “God has a plan” is that the phrase is often used to try and take the pain away from difficult situations. “God has a plan” offered as support can end up denying the person’s disappointment or their suffering.

You didn’t get the job? God has a plan–> so don’t feel badly. This wasn’t actually a disappointment.

Your heart is broken? God has a plan–> Don’t be sad.

Implicit in the statement is the idea, spoken or unspoken, that God has something better in store for you.

If we are not careful, “God has a plan” can turn into a mindset that doesn’t allow for us to experience our emotions of sadness or disappointment or heartbreak. It can also encourage a kind of fatalism. I’ll get the job if God wants me to have it and I don’t have too much input into it.

On the other hand, I don’t want to suggest that God is uninvolved in our lives. There is a middle ground between the micro-manager of the universe and the uninvolved, distant deity. Of course it is not possible to fully understand and explain how God is at work in the world. But (you knew a “but” was coming) that doesn’t mean we can’t try to understand a little bit.

It seems to me that God is as involved as we invite God to be. We can acknowledge God’s activity in the world in a general way and perhaps we won’t “bother” God with our small issues. We’ll deal with getting a good parking place, or good grades on our own. We’ll pray, maybe, for world peace or a sick friend. But some things really aren’t worth bothering God about.  Others of us pray about everything. The weather, the game, our drive to work. We ask for God’s help for all of it. All of it matters to God and is controlled by God.

Both of those perspectives have their problems and their strengths. The Bible tells us God cares about small things, the lost coin, the lost pearl, the lost lamb, the sparrow. However, if God controls all those small things, do we have any choice in what happens to us? If God controls it all, there doesn’t seem to be much point to praying. Unless we can change God’s mind and then perhaps God isn’t in control as much as we thought. It gets confusing quickly.

The clearer way is to shift the focus off of us- my grades, my parking place, my lost coin- and to focus on God. Not God come fix my life, but rather, God help me live into your life.  “Your will be done…” That seems to be the main thing the mystics are trying to tell us. Look for where God is. Look for where we can glimpse God at work, where we can sense God’s presence. Try to be aware and in step with God.

We all want the world to revolve around us. Let’s be honest, It really should be all about me! But its not. Its actually all about God. And God manages to not be self centered, pushy or grabby about it. God’s “all about me” is about God pouring God’s self out for us. This is confusing at first also. God’s all about me is for others. This goes along with those other odd statements of Jesus. If you save your life you lose it and if you lose your life you save it. Blessed are the poor. Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you.

That’s why we get lost and confused when we talk about God’s plan. God’s plan is so odd to us, so completely not human that we have trouble with it. I think we ought to be careful when we think we know God’s plan in any sort of detail. And I think we should be very careful telling others what we think God’s plan is for them.

I’d like to know, what do you think?


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