Archive for the 'Choices' Category

Postal Weeds and the Common Good

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 The weeds had grown up around our corner post office–again. So I cut them down–again! Our “post office” is at a street corner about a quarter-mile from our home. It’s not one of those sterile, institutional steel fortresses. Years ago (before we lived here) our neighbors turned down the Postal Service’s offer to install one of those. So our rural “post office” still consists of individual mailboxes in a row, each on its own post (unlike this picture), planted and maintained by its owner. This works well enough—most of the time. In July and August the “monsoon” comes to Arizona. “Monsoon” in this country means at best a couple of inches of rain. But it’s enough to get the weeds very excited. By this time most years they reach mailbox height. Every time I pull up and reach through my truck window, I worry that a man-eating plant will grab my wrist and drag me home for dinner.

Our boxes are in a public right-of-way. It doesn’t seem to be anyone’s job to cut down the weeds. So my neighbors and I wait…and wait. Finally I get my weed-eater from the garage, throw it in the back of the truck, drive up to the corner, and cut down the weeds. It takes less than half an hour. Everyone now has easy access, my horror-show fantasy is over, and I got to use a power tool!

This is our third summer here since I retired. It’s the third summer I’ve cleared those pesky postal weeds. Last year I tried unsuccessfully to wait out my neighbors. This year I was equally unsuccessful. Or did my neighbors successfully outwait me? It doesn’t matter. The weeds are cleared. Our corner “post office” is easily accessible. I have done my bit for the common good.

Remember “the common good”? At our best that’s why we elect leaders—to serve “the common good”. That’s why we volunteer to serve others in various church and community organizations—to serve “the common good”. Trouble is, we humans aren’t always at our best. Self-interest poisons the political process, both on the part of those who run for office and all of us who vote. Self-interest poisons our volunteering and even our church-going. We tweak and twist “the common good” until it means “good for me and my tribe”. Our tweaked, twisted visions clash with increasing intensity. We no longer care if “good for me” means “too bad for you”. We’ve abandoned any pretense of working for the common good. We’ve chosen instead to live by the law of the jungle—“Everyone for him/herself.”

Jim Wallis has devoted his life to working for the common good. The title of his latest book is On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about the Common Good. Wallis wrote recently in Time Magazine that “…the ethic of the common good has been lost on all political sides. We have entered a dark and dangerous period of selfishness in both our culture and our political life. ‘I’ has replaced ‘we’. Winning has indeed replaced governing, and ideological warfare substitutes for finding solutions to real and growing problems.”

Wallis urges people of faith to help transform this toxic trend. He suggests that our shared spiritual traditions in this country offer common ground from which we can work together for the common good. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a core teaching common to Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Even the US Constitution states that one purpose of our government is to promote “the general welfare”. Can we set aside our ideologies and special interests and agree on some basic moral values ? For example, love of neighbor, care for the weakest and most vulnerable among us, and a more equitable distribution of resources are values that unite people across traditional divisions of age, class, ethnicity, and ideology. They are affirmed by many who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious”. “A commitment to the common good,” Wallis writes, “could bring us together and solve the deepest problems this country and the world now face: How do we work together? How do we treat each other, especially the poorest and most vulnerable? How do we take care of not just ourselves but also one another?”

Restoring our nation’s commitment to the common good will take more than one guy with a weed-eater. It’ll take more than an army of weed-eater-wielding old guys! It will take our personal commitment to let our lives be guided by our understanding of “the common good” instead of “what’s in it for me?” It will take courage and patience in every conversation where we have a chance to encourage others to join us in moving beyond polarization to partnership. It will take political involvement that holds all candidates to the standard of serving the common good rather than the largest contributors. It will take prayerful persistence and persistent prayerfulness. We didn’t reach this “…dark and dangerous period of selfishness…” overnight. We won’t find our way into the light without an equally long journey. A fourth-century Christian named John Chrysostom wrote, “This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good…for nothing can as make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.” Twenty-first century Christian Jim Wallis says, “Only by inspiring a spiritual and practical commitment to the common good can we help make our common life better.”

Yes, we need much more dialog about the content of “the common good”. But let’s take the first step first. Let’s choose to make the common good the standard for our lives. Let’s reject once and for all the Law of the Jungle in our common life.

New Life Ain’t Easy–Flood Journal 3

About four months ago a hard freeze combined with preventable human error (mine) to cause a pipe in our attic to burst. The Flood ruined most of the inside of our home. Since then we have lived in a rented house  about three miles away.Thank God for homeowners’ insurance that pays the rent and related expenses! We’ve made the best of life in “The Cabin”, as we’ve come to call our temporary quarters. Even our dog has adapted enough to call the place “Home—for now”. But he still has days like today when we went to our home (now known as “The Jobsite”) and he didn’t want to get back in the car and go  back to “The Cabin”. He knew where home was.

It’s taken longer than we expected to put together the pieces to start reconstruction. The biggest, hardest piece has been coming to a meeting of the dollars (and minds) between ourselves, our contractor, and the insurance adjuster. But a few days ago the meeting happened! We signed the contract to proceed with the reconstruction. Checks are in the mail from the insurance company. We can see an end to our stay in “The Cabin” and a new beginning in our renewed home. It hasn’t been easy getting to this point, and we expect the rest of the journey to be equally challenging.

This whole process reminds me of the challenges of living the new life God gives us in Christ. For example, our insurance, like most homeowners’ policies, pays to restore the house to its immediate pre-Flood condition. We certainly won’t do that. We’ll do better. We won’t put 15-year-worn carpet back in the house. We’ll correct electrical issues uncovered during “de-construction”. We’ll buy new furniture rather than items as well-used as what we lost. We’ve already decided we can live without some of those things the water ruined.

In the same way, new life in Christ isn’t more of the same. It’s new. It’s not the life we’ve been living, only with a confirmed reservation at the Heavenly Hilton in our back pocket. New life means new priorities and new values. It means taking up some new habits and attitudes and letting go of some old ones. New life in Christ is guided and shaped by our growing experience of Jesus’ life, teachings, and constant presence.

New life requires many choices. All those choices come with costs. We chose to upgrade flooring. We chose to make good (finally!) on our six-year-old threat to remove a wall. We chose to replace the aging original water heater rather than risk FLOOD 2—THE SEQUEL when it dies sooner rather than later. We struggled to balance personal preferences in style and color, finances, stewardship, and boring stuff like functionality, practicality, durability, and energy consumption as we chose cabinets, countertops, paint colors, and all the other elements that go into a home.

One key factor in our choices has been how much of our own money we will invest in this rebuilding process. The answer is turning out to be “enough to do it the way that’s right for us”. It’s not like taking the insurance money, paying your deductible, and being done with it. Having some skin (and dollars) in the game means we’ve “counted the cost” as Jesus advises us to do at the outset of any building project (Luke 14:28). We understand the cost and we’ve chosen the cost in order to achieve the results.

New life in Christ requires many choices. All those choices come with costs. As we said earlier, Jesus shapes the priorities and values that guide our choices in this new life. Following Jesus leads us daily to choices that go against the dominant culture. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43) “Blessed are the poor in spirit…the meek…the merciful…the peacemakers…” (excerpted from Matthew 5:3-11) “ “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1) “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). “…just as you did it to one of the least of these…, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) You get the idea. Following Jesus faithfully confronts us with difficult, costly, countercultural choices. Grace isn’t cheap. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote honestly and powerfully about “The Cost of Discipleship”.   

We want to leave a legacy for those who follow. With our home, that means making choices that lead to a desirable and salable property when the time comes. No, we don’t expect the next six generations tolive on “the old home place”. Yes, we do anticipate a day when choice and/or necessity lead to selling  this house and living somewhere else. Beyond practical and material considerations, this home has hosted some great family moments. We expect the renewed home to host many more. We’re trying to rebuild it in ways that will enhance its warmth and welcome.

Our new life in Christ is never solely about me and my “highway to heaven”. It’s about the difference I make within my reach. Who and what is better off because I chose to step up? How has my presence and involvement in others’ lives helped them see Christ? How have I been an instrument of building God’s New Creation? The answers will be different for each of us. The answers will be surprising, exciting, and life-changing as we invest ourselves fully in living the new life of those who follow Jesus together. New life ain’t easy by any means. But it’s the best life ever.


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