EDITORIAL: Common good

By NEMS Daily Journal

The nearly worldwide recession, as in all the lean times in history, stimulates reflection on the meaning of plenty and want, of scarcity and abundance – often in the context of spirituality and theology, which usually is expressed in some kind of faith.
The noted and prolific writer/theologian Walter Brueggemann, considered by many to be among the world’s leading scholars of the Old Testament, has written a provocative, brief book about the prophetic voice of Exodus, Jeremiah and Isaiah in the context of the current situation, especially in terms of the economy and community.
“Journey to the Common Good” is not a book about personal salvation but about the response of communities – sacred and secular – to the stresses, anxieties and hostilities often accompanying deprivation and greed.
Brueggemann, a minister of the United Church of Christ, preached and lectured in Tupelo a decade ago, and he consistently reflects from a theme of the people of God as a community, about God’s redemptive work, on what one reviewer calls “the conversational relationships between God and the people of God, the importance of imagination in discerning God’s leading,” and on the significance of land and place in the mission of God.
At the beginning of “Journey to the Common Good,” Brueggemann says: “We face a crisis about the common good (today) 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 …”
Brueggemann observes that in Western culture generally the power of scarcity rules, which leads to “entitled consumerism … in which we imagine that something more will make us more comfortable, safer and happier.”
As a Christian, Brueggemann argues that the Old Testament lesson is carried into the Christian faith in people who are freed to work for the common good.
“When the church only echoes the world’s kingdom of scarcity, then it has failed in its vocation. But the faithful church keeps at the task of living out a journey that points to the common good,” he writes.
Brueggemann’s points should resonate in so-called Christian America, except as he and others note, that the reign of God is too often falsely expressed, citing Solomon, as a kingdom built up on the essential elements of wealth, power and worldly wisdom.
In contrast, Brueggemann writes, the reign of God and living in community as God’s people require “steadfast covenantal solidarity … justice that gives access and viability to the weak …” and “righteousness as intervention for social well-being.”
The result, he concludes, is the theme of the prophet Isaiah: justice, membership in the covenant commitment, worship, economics, and a vision of the reconciling mission of God.
The life-sustaining alternative to the “kingdom of paucity,” as Brueggemann describes, is the “practice of neighborhood.” He calls it the “key journey” Jews, Christians and “all humans must make in order to be maximally human.”
Brueggemann helps envision “the common good” as the ultimate redemption of God – freedom from temptations of wealth, might and worldly wisdom and transformation of specific neighborhoods, which is where ancient prophecy engages with current reality.