The Common Good

Mediterranean Kitchen Sink

I can say everything worth saying in this post in a sentence: for all my distaste of socialism there are some things done in the name of the public good that are hard to do any other way. I’m Presbyterian and Scots/Irish. My ancestors split from the Catholic Church over corruption and a rather Imperialist/Roman idea of the priesthood. Not sure what I’m talking about? Read up on church history. You’ll figure it out.

For all my love of independence, my leanings toward hermitage, having flush toilets and indoor running water is rather nice. I’m all about a free market and voluntary democracy. If I have any utopian leanings it is towards anarchy. I also love my laptop and my Android phone. Both are vehicles I use to interact with the Internet. Without large public entities to operate the electrical grid and the communications grid my phone loses much of its sizzle. I have an older laptop so it functions fine without a communications link. It still needs electricity and until we make solar power ubiquitous I need evil, capitalist, and monopolistic Dominion Power to keep operating.

There are still plenty of places in the world where my faucet is a marvel. I think nothing of walking into my kitchen, turning a handle, and observing potable water flow from the faucet. I can drink the water with confidence that those who supply that water are hard at work ensuring that it is safe. On my vacation to Taiwan I was told not to drink water from the faucet. Taiwan is a nominally first world nation that does not have reliable municipal water. You can find a steady stream of young women carrying water in places in the world because water is scarce and plumbing doesn’t exist. I just open my faucet.

I have hot water just by turning that handle on the faucet. My hot water heater burns natural gas piped to my house by the City of Richmond. Once a week a truck comes down the alley behind my house and a worker empties my trash into the truck. Recycling happens twice a month. There could be a collective that owns a fleet of trash trucks. This way, with Waste Management located across the street from me and the city transfer station a short walk from me, staffed by hourly workers, works well enough.

One more. I don’t need the cops much anymore. I’ve calmed down quite a bit. Still, I can, by tapping out 911 on my phone, summon them and get help. Say what you will about taxes, government and the police, having the cops on the job is a comfort. Yeah, there are dickhead cops. Dickheads lurk everywhere and not all of them are cops. I know my dissident kin. The sucky world we have is better than the stunningly sucky world we’d have without them. Let’s just say than so I can finish the essay.

I get it. The rich 1% have too much and the rest of us don’t have enough. Cops are assholes. I know. We should pick winners so that the 1% have much less and the rest of us can try to bail ourselves out of Mexican jails after being drunk in public in Cabo San Lucas. What’s the difference between secular, anarchist socialism and the church? Much, starting with love and mercy. The thing that drives secular, anarchist, socialist thinking is anger at disparity. There is no mercy. There is always a titular 1% who is at fault for whatever misery has befallen the 99%.

Christians have always lived in the shadows of the privileged. Our way of life is consistent whether you have wealth or not. It is rooted in service, love and grace. It is not without price. Your anger at the 1% has to die. Your infantile attachment to blaming a gossamer other as the source of your miseries must be surrendered.

I have a challenge to every believer in Socialism, Communism, Anarchist Revolution or flavor of left-wing dissidence. First, how much demolition are you planning? Are you asking me to accept dry faucets and garbage that piles up in my alley while you exalt in your revolution? Second, don’t take from the 1% to feed the poor. I’m betting the 99% you believe are suffering from disparity have off-market/black market cash and barter that disrupts your logic.

Next, leave the empire alone. Caesar eventually stopped being Emperor. It took 1400 years. 600 years or so later there are more people than ever and the USofA is a bigger empire. We have a choice to make. Do you want all the services provided to you through your taxes and monthly bills or do you want your revolution and a smart-phone turned paperweight? Decide. Because if you really do believe in destroying the empire there is a way to do it. It’s not terrorism or a zombie apocalypse. It is that homeless woman you befriended who turns out to be a commercial fisherwoman down on her luck. That’s how we, Christians, brought down Caesar. That’s how we are still here in this first world, capitalist, social-democratic country called the United States of America. You can keep your iPhone. Our revolution doesn’t need it.

Now, Don’t give fish. Don’t teach the poor to fish. First, they probably know more about fishing that you do. Second, until we know who the 99% is, until we know them as neighbors, our attempts at mercy are often feckless. Inept resource dumps have known unintended consequences that can create a bigger problem than the one they sought to solve. I read Moyo’s 2009, “Dead Aid”, too. It’s not just giving fish.

The first thing I want you to do is sit next to the homeless guy/gal on the street and talk to them. Yeah, if giving a dollar helps start the conversation, sure. Also buying a meal or whatever. The point of this isn’t that you have fish and the homeless person doesn’t. Truth, sometimes the homeless person does have fish and there are other problems interfering with their desire or ability to stop living loud. The point is fellowship and making neighbors we can love. It’s not just about your skill at fishing you are bestowing on a grateful proletariat.

The next thing is shut up. Listen. Not for needs, Don’t listen for needs. I can almost guess, without having met the homeless person you are befriending, what the needs are. They need housing, they need an income, they need basic resources like food, shelter, medical care and so on. They are addicted to something, suffer from mental illness, sometimes diagnosed, sometimes not, they are estranged from friends & family, are an abuse victim or are an abuser, have a criminal record earning them a tattooed scarlet letter, have a string of broken relationships with partners who felt the trust violated because of transgressive behavior. Am I scoring any hits? Some? Yup.

We pretty much know the needs without actually knowing the people or geographic area. The stereotypes we have about the ghetto still resonate. Listening for needs draws us into the same mistakes we have made for centuries. No, you need to go fishing so you can listen for gifts. Everybody has a thing they want to do. Some of it is nuts. Maybe don’t do the nutty thing. Some of it isn’t possible under the present circumstances. I’ll trust your judgement there. There will be something, though, that is possible and opens up a path off the street and to a quieter life. That’s why you are standing in the cold at 4am on the 14th Street bridge crossing the James River in Richmond, VA next to the old woman who asked you for a quarter and is catching more fish than you. You are there to learn of her gifts and how you can foster them.

I know this about that friendship. You will be changed. She will be a revolution in your life. I don’t have to cajole you into flopping before the altar on Sunday. By serving her, by finding out how you can foster her gifts, you will discover your own gifts and needs that are blessed in the knowing of her. I don’t care if you eventually join a church. It is enough that you served and were changed. In the doing you let the resurrected kingdom into your heart. Boom.

I don’t have to be at the front of the armed riot that sets the White House on fire or bombs the power grid. My revolution is over 2,000 years old. It is viral. It gets into you and disrupts your careful, authoritarian, populist world. It says crazy things like asking you to wash the feet of those who you intend to lead. It’s leader said the first shall be last and the last shall be first. It’s central book is an absurd biblios of disjointed, conflicting literature. It is one of history’s most influential belief systems. My revolution continues in spite of its many absurdities. As long as I keep paying my bills, I can still get potable water from my faucet. I’m good with that.