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A friend and mentor began a recent meeting by noting that we are experiencing “a letting go that sometimes feels excruciating.” It is a teaching time, but also a time of division and tumult. How we continue to respond to the challenges in our world will be the mark of us. Are we the America who went without rubber, without shoes and chocolate and nylon, so as to stamp out fascism in World War II? Or are we an America who equates freedom with the basest selfishness, a tyrannical toddler who refuses inconvenience even as the body count rises?

Who we are at heart will out itself
in small graces, in occasions not taken,
in the less and more of
what we will not do for ourselves,
but what we will do for others.
Change is demanded: for our earth,
for her creatures. Will we rise,
shine silver, mean what we said
when we said who we were?
The promise of America
lies within grasp: It will
bloody our fingers to grab it,
but it will also save our soul.

Remember the greater good? It sent us to war against the Nazis. It induced us to pay taxes to build interstate highways and fund police and fire departments. It rings out melodiously every time we sacrifice for the good of others.

The common good seems to have gone out of vogue, along with war bonds and victory gardens. Today, it’s every man — or woman — for him/herself. The scrabble to have and keep what we’ve collected, as if life were a giant game of Monopoly, takes precedence over pretty much everything else. There are towns in Indiana where the paved roads are so pitted and ruined, they’ve been ground up into gravel and left that way. There’s no money to pay for their improvement. That might mean a tax increase, and the words “tax increase” hold roughly the same degree of distaste as the words “full body cavity search.”

We’re like a bunch of sullen teens, griping at the world-at-large, “Don’t come in my room, Mom and Dad. Gah! Can’t you just leave me alone?” Well, guess what, kids? You’re living under God’s roof now. And as long as you are, you’d best follow His rules.

As people of God, we’re asked to act for the common good. As 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” And while a tinkling cymbal may sound pretty, it’s not gonna get you seats at Sardi’s, if you know what I’m saying. Effecting change for the better takes a much bigger set of lungs.

Charity isn’t easy. I know this. Thinking of the common good means abnegating your own selfish wants and needs in favor of what we all need: as a community, as a country, as a world. And every time the scope expands, the amount that’s asked of us increases…and it hurts just a little bit more. It doesn’t help that most of us are so struggling to get by that we hardly have the energy to look beyond our own nests.

But there are things we can do that cost little in terms of our time and bank accounts. We can vote for those who will ensure better conditions for the most people. We can refrain from selfish pursuits that will benefit us at the expense of others. We can pray for change. And we can stand up to corporations, banks, governments and yes, churches, that prey on the weak or take more than their share, or ignore the root causes of poverty in favor of patriarchal control. (Just sayin’.)

It’s time for the common good to come back into favor. If we all push a little, we can move mountains.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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