Tag Archives: community

The Common Good

20 Mar

Our church’s theme for Lent is The Good Life. We are looking at parables in Matthew, full of people searching for The Good Life, and Jesus often flipping expectations on their head: the last will be first, surely the rich will struggle entering the kingdom, I dwell among the least of these. We too, like the people in Matthew’s Gospel, are all searching for The Good Life, and often mistake values in this world with what God values in the next.


A video series on the Good Life is accompanying worship, and with the camera rolling, I got asked what I think the Good Life is. I talked about balance: striving for balance between my introverted self and my extraverted self, between my mind, body and spirit, between my personal/private life and professional/public life. I talked about being mindful, living fully in the present moment and fully engaging in the stage of life I am currently in, not wishing away moments or pining for the past.


“Okay, thanks so much,” the videographer said. “That was great.”


Hours later, I was still thinking about what he captured me saying on video. I came to realize what was bothering me was what I didn’t say. My answer was self-centered. My idea of The Good Life, at least the part caught on tape, was all about me. It was individual, personal self-improvement. So were most people’s answers, actually. An eighth grader, for example, succinctly stated the American Dream as The Good Life: “I want to graduate college, get a good job, have my own house, and raise kids to be successful.” A man in his seventies talked about striving in his life to achieve his goals. Maybe it is the default of humans, or our society’s obsession with self reliance and independence, but the instinct to go personal when building The Good Life is undeniable. 

It could be argued that personal work is a good place to start, but I don’t believe it is the place to end. I believe, deep down, that my own joy and well-being is tied up in the joy and well-being of all people. I do believe that I am only doing as well as the least of these. If given another shot, I would have focused my answer about The Good Life on The Common Good.


Darwin tells us that natural selection operates on the individual level. I pass my genes on to my son, and it is easy to fall into the trap of caring so much about my immediate family that I do not look further to the health of my community. With a three-month-old baby, I do feel this way at times. There is a strong element of survival, that turning inward to protect my child has an undeniable biological element to it. I love my child so fiercely that it can be consuming. At the end of the day, I think, “Well, I kept this human being alive today. That’s probably enough.” We take care of our own, and we define our own narrowly.


However, Darwin also saw that civilization works on the tribal level. Groups of people who work together and value the common good outlive groups of people who work as isolated individuals. One person might not be able to successfully hunt a predator, but a group of people working together can. Community matters for our own good. 

I agree with Lord Jonathan Sacks when he says:

Community is the antidote to individualism on the one hand and over-reliance on the state on the other.

He goes on to say that church is still one place in society where we believe in and act out The Common Good:

Frequent worshippers are also significantly more active citizens. They are more likely to belong to community organisations, neighbourhood and civic groups and professional associations. They get involved, turn up and lead. The margin of difference between them and the more secular is large. When we celebrate or mourn we do so as a community. Even when we confess, we do so together. We find God in community. We develop virtue, strength of character, and a commitment to the common good in community. Community is local. It is society with a human face. It is not government. It is not the people we pay to look after the welfare of others. It is the work we do ourselves, together.

Worshipping together, with a group who would otherwise be strangers, builds community. Church is still a place where people can come together and create community that will act together for The Common Good. Worshipping together turns out outward, reminding us of The Common Good as a main component of The Good Life.

12 Nov


“We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms, and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment, and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.”

Joy of the Gospel #204

In 2000 at the United Nations, 192 nations committed to 8 Millennium Development Goals to achieve by 2015. It took only 10 years to achieve the first goal — to cut in half the number of people living on $1.25 a day. Today 90% of the children in our world complete primary school, both girls and boys (goal 2). More than 2.3 billion people had safe drinking water by 2012.

In fact, the success of the MDGs shows more is possible. The United Nations is working on Sustainable Development Goals to focus and further the work of a sustainable future for all.

“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, enabling them to be fully a part of society” (Joy of the Gospel #187).

What is a way you work to include people in poverty in our economy?


31 Oct
via Flickr user Lars Hammar

via Flickr user Lars Hammar

I love communion. It is a mysterious ritual that always lives a bit beyond our human understanding. I love bread. I married a man who makes bread from scratch– baguettes, pizza dough, bagels and loaves of cracked wheat fill our kitchen with flour and the smell of goodness rising. I love sharing meals with people, the special thing that happens when we take the time to break bread together. When I take communion, I am often filled with memories of all the places around the world where I have shared in the meal. Partaking helps me feel connected to people in different times and places who were searching for the same thing– to be fed. I remember work over the years in shelters and kitchens where redistributing good food brings dignity to us and neighbor. I remember the loaves and fishes story- Jesus using ordinary elements to do extraordinary things. Communion is visible and tangible, and when it is done well, the welcoming and sustaining nature can be a true glimpse of the kingdom.

I just finished Take This Bread by Sara Miles. It is a stunning spiritual memoir about food and bodies and communion. Raised atheist, Sara unexpectedly stumbles into St. Gregory’s church to receive communion. “I’d understood the world first, and best, by putting it in my mouth.” She was hungry, she was welcomed and she kept coming back for more. Communion became, for her, opening food pantries at the church and all around the neighborhood.  Jesus told his followers, while gazing at the hungry crowd, to feed them. They did, and so do we. “Jesus invited notorious wrongdoers to his table, airily discarded all the religious rules of the day, and fed whoever showed up, by the thousands. In the end, he was murdered for eating with the wrong people…. I believe this God rose from the dead to have breakfast with his friends.”

Last Sunday, I helped distribute communion to a full house at our church. Fifty youth who I had worked with over the last year were getting confirmed, so we had family and friends coming in from all over to share in the worship. Some people, not used to dipping bread into wine or having a grape juice compartment as an option in the chalice or maybe taking communion at all, whispered questions about how to proceed. I helped them move through as comfortably as possible. Partaking in ritual can take courage. One woman who asked, “Which side do I use?” I answered, “Either. This is wine, this is grape juice, but it all works.” I smiled. God’s saving love is bigger than the rules, our choices, and our actions.

“This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

“This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

“This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

Over and over again, I looked each person in the eye and repeated the audacious claim. It is one thing to receive communion and hear the words once. It’s another to be part of the blessing for everyone who shows up. The words became meditative as I worked to not go through the motions, but engage with each person. About half way through serving the wine, I got a little emotional. The particularity of it all– shed for you, and for you, and for you– within the community of it all set in. We are all hungry, we were all welcomed, we are all saved. Young and old, committed to church and not, we all came forward and received the same gift. Communion is powerful.

I’m with Sara: “There’s a hunger beyond food that’s expressed in food,” she writes, “and that’s why feeding is always kind of a miracle.”

Why Do You Go to Church?

9 Oct
via flickr user Wil C. Fry

via flickr user Wil C. Fry

My pastor friend recently started an adult confirmation class at her church. Why? Well, in part because the church doesn’t have any kids of the typical confirmation class age. Also, she has noticed that many adults, who may or may not have been confirmed as youth, struggle to articulate why they go to church. For example, one woman has repeatedly expressed frustration that her niece in her twenties does not join her at church.

My pastor friend pushes her, “Why do you go to church?”

“Um,” she paused, a little taken aback, “it’s just what you do. It’s what I’ve always done on Sunday morning.”

“Well, I’d bet your niece has more reasons why she doesn’t go to church. I bet she can think of eighteen other things to do– like take a walk, sip coffee in her pajamas, go to brunch with girlfriends, or do crossword puzzles with her boyfriend– instead of go to church that all feel like Sabbath to her. Unless you can tell her why she should give those things up to come with you, unless you can tell her what she will find her to bring her peace and rest and joy, she’s going to pass.”

My pastor friend is hoping adult confirmation can equip her congregation with some vocabulary around expressing their faith, their story. Each session she is focusing on one of the baptismal promises that is affirmed at confirmation. Week 1: To live among God’s faithful people. Or, in other words, Why church?

Martin Luther answers by expressing seven marks of the church, or seven things you will find in a church that defines it in society: the word of God, baptism, eucharist, confession and forgiveness of sins, presence of ministers, prayers of thanks and praise to God, and the possession of the cross (or suffering). He believes that these seven things work together to strengthen the ordinary holiness of Christ believers. Many people go to church because these elements work for them.

In Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott has a great chapter called “Why I Make Sam Go To Church.” Sam is her son. Here are some of her reasons for bringing her son to church:

1. “I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most people I know who have what I want– which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy– are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith…banning together to work on themselves and human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful.”

2. “When I was at the end of my rope, the people at St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me hold on. The church became a home in the old meaning of home– that it’s where, when you show up, they have to let you in.”

3. “Sam was welcomed at St. Andrew seven months before he was born. When I announced at worship that I was pregnant, people cheered…And they began slipping me money.”

4. “I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools– friendship, prayer, conscience, honesty– and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”

I agree with my pastor friend. More and more people will choose to find Sabbath outside of church unless the people who go to church can clearly articulate what church offers. I know people who go because they love the feeling of singing in a choir. Others go because when they are too broken to pray, they know the others around them will pray for them until they are strong again. Still others value being part of a bigger story, a community that spans distance and time. It is one of the only places left to build genuine inter-generational relationships. Or for some, it’s a quiet place to sit still and reflect on the week.

If you go to church, can you explain why?

Hunger: What You Need To Know – #WorldFoodDay 2012

16 Oct

Learn more about World Food Day here. How are you getting involved?

Gospel Reflection for March 18th, 4th Sunday in Lent

12 Mar

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but so the world might be saved through him.”

John 3.17

Jesus’ mission is not to condemn the world but to save it.  He calls us who believe in him to do likewise.  Like Nicodemus, we find this hard to understand.  We are accustomed to the harsh realities of our world, such as terrorism, war, collateral damage, market forces, corporate downsizing, torture, and ethnic cleansing.  We take the daily condemnation and crucifixion of millions of our fellow human being for granted.

What crucifixions can I or we in our church community help end?

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Gospel Reflection for November 20, Feast of Christ the King

15 Nov

The just ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you were a stranger and welcome you or naked and give you clothing?  When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
“I assure you, whatever you did for one of these least, you did for me,” the king replies.

Matthew 25.40

Writer Matthew places this Sunday’s parable just before Jesus’ passion in the flow of the gospel narrative.  In his passion Jesus himself becomes the least among us, suffering the kind of execution aimed to shame and subdue rebellious slaves. Sunday’s parable invites us to recognize Jesus in all those who suffer.

Who in your area needs the active mercy of people in your parish or neighborhood?

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A Labor Day Blessing

5 Sep

“Prosper for us the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17)

When all are gathered, the leader lights a center candle and begins.

LEADER: Christ, our Light, has called us to follow his example.
ALL: May our work this week be done in his light and shed his love on those we meet.

LEADER: Let us pause to reflect on how our work can aid others.
Brief pause for reflection.
LEADER: Lord, prosper for us the work of our hands.
ALL: Bless those who work with us.

LEADER: If the Lord is not with us, we labor in vain (Ps 127:1).
ALL: Lord, prosper for us the work of our hands.

PSALM 90:1-2, 13-17
LEADER: Lord you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
ALL: Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

LEADER: Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
ALL: Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.

LEADER: Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands.
ALL: Prosper for us the work of our hands.

LEADER: We work to provide for what we need.  Jesus teaches us to pray and trust that God’s work is to provide what we truly need.

READER: A reading from Luke 11:2-4, 9-13

Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Abba God, hallowed be your Name! May your reign come. Give us today tomorrow’s bread. Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive everyone who sins against us; and don’t let us be subjected to the Test’.
I tell you, keep asking and you’ll receive; keep looking and you’ll find; keep knocking and the door will be opened to you. For whoever asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; whoever knocks, is admitted.  What parents among you will give a snake to their child when the child asks for a fish, or a scorpion when the child asks for an egg? If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will our heavenly Abba give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?

LEADER: As partners with God who share God’s work in and for our world, let us pray that God will bless all workers who better the world through their labor.
ALL: Bless their lives and the work of their hands.

LEADER: That the work of the human community, whether in homes or factories, in service or scientific professions, in roles of leadership or in roles of directly caring for others, may bring God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.
ALL: Bless their lives and the work of their hands.

LEADER: That God will bless those who seek work but cannot find it, who are homeless or unable to work, who have no way to obtain daily bread by their own efforts; and that those who have enough share the fruits of their labor with their sisters and brothers in need.
ALL: Bless their lives and the work of their hands.

LEADER: That God will bless all those whose lives are put at risk by their labor and those who serve their brothers and sisters through the night hours.
ALL: Bless their lives and the work of their hands.

LEADER: Let us pray with thanks for being the work of God’s hands.
ALL: With thanks for the work we have been given to do, we ask that all who do work begin in God’s inspiration, continue in God’s care, and end in God’s love. Amen.

from Blessing Rites for Christian Lives by Shawn Madigan, CSJ.


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