Friday, February 12, 2010

The Common Good -- A Contest between Scarcity and God's Abundance

Journey to the Common GoodWe live in a season of fear, a season when our anxiety about scarcity can lead us to forget the common good.  We turn to hoarding and "me-first" ideologies (both protectionism and anti-immigrant fervor are expressions).

I have begun reading what I believe will be a magnificent little book by Walter Brueggemann entitled The Journey to the Common Good (WJK, 2010). 

In this book, which is based on lectures given at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, Brueggemann reflects upon the Exodus story and the Exile (through the lenses of Jeremiah and Isaiah).  I want to share this paragraph, which follows upon one in which this sentence appears:  "the imperial pursuit of 'more' can never be satisfied.  Pharaoh can never have enough to sleep well at night" (p. 21).

Then the famed biblical scholar writes:

What Israel discovered in the wilderness -- and again in the exile -- is that there is an alternative.  Indeed, it is fair to say that the long history of Israel is a contestation between Pharaoh's system of  paucity and God's offer of abundance.  Surely it is a legitimate extrapolation that the long history o f the church is a contest between paucity that presses to control and abundance that evokes patterns of generosity.  Beyond Israel or church, going all the way back to Erik Erikson's elemental "basic trust," the human enterprise is a contrast between scarcity and the dreaminess of abundance that breaks the compulsions of scarcity.  Israel, full of wonder bread, makes its way to Mount Sinai.  That gift of wonder breaks the deathly pattern of anxiety, fear, greed, and anger, a miracle that always surprises because it is beyond our categories of expectation.  It is precisely an overwhelming, inexplicable act of generosity that breaks the grip of self-destructive anxiety concerning scarcity.  (Brueggemann, Journey to the Common Good, p. 21-22).
How much is enough?  We ask that question when pondering CEO's over expanding compensation, Wall Street Bonuses, or athlete's contracts, but the question comes back to us -- how much is enough so that we might let go of the system of anxiety and scarcity.  As Brueggemann notes, as soon as the Hebrews escaped the Pharaoh's system of scarcity, they began desiring a return.  It is here, in this context, that message of divine abundance speaks to us, inviting us to share with one's neighbor.  Only then can Pharaoh sleep at night!

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