How do we decide? There are endless options and divergent opinions. We are washed over by more than 5,000 marketing messages per day, and these messages are precisely tuned to trigger the responses desired. Eat this brand of cereal. Ask your doctor about this medicine. Read this article, and then click on the advertisement for new jeans. Watch this drama Tuesdays at 9, and then purchase their ascetic at this home store. Our decision-making process feels hacked. It’s as if invisible people are manning omnipotent keyboards, exercising undue influence on our lives.
Floating in this consumer abyss renders it inconvenient, if not downright preposterous, for us to move beyond the decision-making criteria dictated by individualism and materialism. Loosely, these two dualistic philosophies promote self over sacrifice and physical over spiritual. Individualism demonizes any appeal to self-restraint for the sake of the community, because personal pleasure (or at the very least, the absence of discomfort) rules the day. Materialism values the tangible, and treats the intangible (things like friendship, time, and presence) as commodities, things that can be purchased and/or traded. Thusly, when faced with hard decisions we’re paralyzed at the prospect of losing consumer choice.
“How will option A affect me?” is a natural question, but stopping here fails to gain the perspective of love. Love asks, “Is option A good for my neighbor?” It insists on knowing, “What will the cost of option A be on future generations?” Love searches the heart and contemplates, “What is mine to do within option A?”
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “Mature people, at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interest, transcends sectarian commitments, and offers human solidarity.”
If we were to ask a mature person (as Brueggemann describes them), how do we decide? I would venture to guess that person would invite conversation surrounding common good. “Sectarian commitments” and “private interests” could be the subtitles for a two-volume set describing the socio-politics of consumeristic America. Indeed, “private interests” is the product of individualism, and “sectarian commitments” are materialistically driven. Therefore, Brueggemann could provide us navigation out of these consumeristic waters. Committing ourselves to the common good might be the salvation we long to experience.
This idea of common good is not new. In fact, the quote from Brueggemann is from his commentary on the development and transformation of the ancient Israelite people in his 2010 book: Journey to the Common Good. Inspired by this small book, I have prepared an October sermon series by the same title. What follows are the scripture texts and sermon titles for this month of October. Please, I invite you to participate, to invite friends, and to join this conversation. “Journey for the Common Good” is the kind of study that is sure to make an impact in how you live your faith.