Archive for the 'Common Good' 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.


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