This month our church is discussing a book by Walter Brueggemann called Journey to the Common Good. Some of the themes we’re discussing dovetail well with the antiracism discussion that’s also still ongoing. In our Common Good discussion last week, I found myself thinking out loud about how the economic and cultural measures of success in America don’t match the reality of our whole community.
One of the most common snapshots of American success is the action of the stock market, yet only 55% of Americans own stock. Gross domestic product, or GDP, is also used to measure America’s success, yet it only measures the “success” of the businesses, not the people who work in them. Somehow, over the decades, we have come to rate America exclusively on capitalist standards, rather than on the well-being of its citizens.
So, I’ve been pondering what measures we might choose to follow instead. What would it be like to measure what percentage of Americans are able to pay their rent or mortgage each month, and aim for 100%? What if we were to state a nationwide goal of zero percent homelessness? How might we tackle the number of underinsured or uninsured Americans, and aim to get those numbers down to zero as well?
What if American success was based on the progress of each neighborhood instead of the nation as a whole? That way, the ultrarich wouldn’t eclipse the pain and peril of the poor. What if we gained advantages (perhaps higher savings rates or student loan forgiveness) when we helped each other to rise? What if the wealth index was based on where the lowest stood, rather than the highest? Might that give us incentive to reach out and help those more fortunate than ourselves?
One key element in all of this for me is a critical need to revision judgment and shame. One of the important lessons I’ve learned in our discussion about racism and discrimination in this country is the amount of judgment that we carry—and have come to take for granted. Those whose skin is a different color are judged to be inferior. Those who are poor are judged to be lazy. Those who are racist are judged to be bad people. None of these statements are true.
I don’t know how we begin to revision what success looks like in America, but I want to ask the questions. I want this to be on our radars. I want us to be thinking about who God calls us to be and what God calls us to do. As Jesus said, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. That means if our neighbor is poorer or disadvantaged by the American system, we are too.
What questions can you be asking?
What neighbor needs your loving attention today?