Common Good

Reader

This Reader is an expression of Common Good, a vision for an alternative way, rooted in the act of remembering anew, the significance of place, and the structure of belonging. Whether you come at this from a place of economics, social good, or faith, we hope these reflections help orient your day in fresh, provocative, courageous ways. And most importantly, we hope these lead you into the sharing of gifts in particular communities—into co-creating a common good.
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A Pause that Reimagines Social Life

The great “triad of vulnerability” in the book of Deuteronomy identifies widows, orphans, and immigrants as needy members of society who are without protected rights…. It is no stretch at all to see that on Sabbath day these vulnerable, exposed neighbors shall be “like you,” peaceably at rest. In this interpretive tradition, Sabbath is not simply a pause. It is an occasion for reimagining all social life away from coercion and competition to compassionate solidarity. Such solidarity is imaginable and capable of performance only when the drivenness of acquisitiveness is broken. Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms. Whereas Israelites are always tempted to acquisitiveness, Sabbath is an invitation to receptivity, an acknowledgment that what is needed is given and need not be seized.*

Who are your friends and what authority do you have to widen that network? Like-mindedness is destroying community, and separation by social class is crushing the fabric of our communities. The vulnerable act of inviting friendship does not mean every invitation will be welcomed. But the ability to befriend those neighbors who are vulnerable, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant is a lifestyle choice. You don’t have to go it alone. Reach out to a friend and brainstorm for ways to connect with the vulnerable. Often you’ll discover that naming that intention will give you eyes to see opportunities.

Consider your weekly habits and when you rest. How might you include a vulnerable nieghbor in that habit? Who could you share a meal with, or take a walk with or enjoy and afternoon sharing stories on the porch? It could begin with a neighborhood walk, intentionally introducing yourself to someone different than you. It could include visiting a space where you could volunteer.

Resist the temptation to make this one more “activity” or “production” and, instead, ask “How might I put myself in a posture to receive and be transformed through friendship with those who are vulnerable?”

 

 

*Brueggemann, Walter. Sabbath as Resistance, (p. 45). Presbyterian Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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A Pause that Cancels Debt

Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms….

Moses, in Deuteronomy, imagines that Sabbath is not only a festival day but also a new social reality that is carried back into days one through six (Deut 15:1-18). People who keep Sabbath live all seven days differently. So the task, according to Moses, is to “seven” our lives. … Every seven years, in an enactment of “the sabbatic principle,” Israel is enjoined to cancel debts on poor people. The intention in this radical act of “seven” is that there should be no permanent underclass in Israel ….

We often take for granted that debt and interest are normative forms of relationship. For this moment however, consider, is there a person I know who is economically cornered into a status of “under class,” who owes me in one respect or another?

Consider making this personally practical. While there are ways to advocate for those casualties of certain investment funds or to engage “predatory lending” legislation (worthwhile practices unto themselves), consider today one personal relationshipyou could change. Is there a debt that you know someone is struggling to repay, how could you release them from that burden, without creating a savior complex or setting up codependency? If no one comes to mind, could you find a situation to build a friendship with someone experiencing economic isolation? If you don’t know where to start, who could you ask to help you?

Again, the practice is to “seven” our lives in such a way that we do not take debt and interest for granted, and especially to not “bless” debt-based-isolation as socially normative.

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Enact An Alternative

…Sabbath is not only resistance. It is alternative. It is an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive presence of advertising and its great liturgical claim of professional sports that devour all our “rest time.” The alternative on offer is the awareness and practice of the claim that we are situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God. To be so situated is a staggering option, because we are accustomed to being on the initiating end of all things. We neither expect nor even want a gift to be given, so inured are we to accomplishing and achieving and possessing. Thus I have come to think that … sabbath is the most difficult and most urgent of the commandments in our society, because it summons us to intentand conductthat defies the most elemental requirements of a commodity-propelled society that specializes in control and entertainment, bread and circuses…  along with anxiety and violence.*

When we take a good rest from initiating things we can recalibrate our intentions. Is this the work I want to be doing? Are these visions and goals the visions and goals to which I most deeply wish to belong? Am I creating a life that I respect?

Take some time to reflect on your intent today. Can you pair a conduct or habit to that intention? This isn’t the same as numbingout to TV or sports, or taking “time for myself.” This sort of Sabbath is a proactive, creative posture to your everyday lifestyle. What can you do today that that enacts a reality that you are not defined by Pharaoh’s anxiety and violence?

 

 

*Brueggemann, Walter. Sabbath as Resistance, Presbyterian Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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Outside the Rat Race

…In the desperate context of wilderness, work stoppage is definitional because the God of Sinai wants energy invested in the neighborhood and not in self-securing in order to get ahead, as in the empire. Of course there were cheats who multitasked on Sabbath, thereby to get a leg up on bread. But the provision of Sinai is otherwise; Sabbath is an occasion for community enhancement, for eating together and remembering and hoping and singing and dancing and telling stories—all exercises that have no production value. Israel learned at Sinai, and most especially in the fourth command on Sabbath, that there is a viable way to organize the neighborhood outside the rat race. The Israelites departed Sinai with a new possibility. They were able to dream of enough for all, a dream that refused the common and recurring nightmares of scarcity.*

The story we tell about the indispensable nature of our body, our time, and our security undercuts the story about the fragility of our bodies and others, the abundant possibility within this very moment, and the vulnerability that make relationships flourish. Whether you take a vacation a year, a day off a week, a meal a day, or a rest to reflect, write, visit, several times… to make space for dreaming is a habit of the mind and body. To rest is to retrain our mind in an alternative narrative to the dominant story of scarcity. To rest with community is to retrain the habits of your community toward that alternative as well.

As a simple exercise, look over your calendar for the week. Add in space for eating with someone, for dancing, for reading or walking or praying. Note where you will “rest from producing” and invite a friend or neighbor to join you.

 

 

*Brueggemann, Walter. Journey to the Common Good (pp. 26-27). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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Daring to Stop

Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being. It is easy to imagine that in Pharaoh’s system there never was a sabbath for anyone. Everyone was 24/7! The slaves never got a day off and perhaps had to multitask to meet their quotas. Pharaoh surely never took a day off; he was too busy writing memos and sending out work orders and quotas. As a result everyone was caught up in an endless process of production and accumulation…. Sabbath is an occasion for community enhancement, for eating together and remembering and hoping and singing and dancing and telling stories—all exercises that have no production value.*

From 24/7 news cycles, to 24/7 smartphone availability, to 24/7 production hours… we, like Pharaoh, can fall prey to a live without Sabbath. Stoppage comes at a cost. Only when we stop do we invest our time in those things that have no production value.

What is a nothat you have been postponing? What one appointment you can cancel? What is the gift that you have held hostage? What is one call you could make today to set up time with someone who’s time you value beyond what they produce?

 

 

* Brueggemann, Walter. Journey to the Common Good (pp. 26-27). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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